Take, for example, binge drinking in Australia. Seems our mates down under are having a hard time with the term, forcing their government and a variety of medical organisations to use the phrase “single event drinking” instead. Whoever came up with that one is bloody brilliant! Single event drinking, indeed. Now when an Aussie gulps back a six pack or a Bonteheuwel Briefcase of wine in a very short space of time, you’re not allowed to call him a “binger”. What is he, a “single eventer”?R
Then there’s “heavy”, the nicety used for the morbidly obese in America. It’s used in the phrase, “She is on the heavy side”, because it’s not politically correct to say she’s fat. Medically speaking, this isn’t going to help anyone – least of all heavy people. Once you reach a certain level of Body Mass Index (BMI), you’re fat. But somehow it seems that using that word is seen as a direct attack on a person’s intelligence rather than a description of their size.R
Of course, here we have problems with the word “black”. Saved only by names that sometimes indicate a cultural affinity, we can say “my friend Sizwe came around last night” and everyone gets a picture of Sizwe. But if Sizwe’s brother Mike came along instead, we feel obliged to let you know he’s a black guy. Without saying the word “black”. So, it’s all convoluted. “My friend Mike – you know the one, you saw him in my car last week. Dark hair and eyes. Looks kind of Nigerian, but he’s South African.” R
How stupid is that? Either call him Mike and leave it at that, or say “my mate Mike – no, not Jewish Mike, black Mike”. Now, my friend Jewish Mike and my other friend Black Mike are never offended when I use those terms to clear things up. But some people are just looking for reasons to be offended.
Now, I’m the last person to advocate hate – or even extremely hurtful – speech. But political correctness is really killing us. It’s time for us to get over looking for offensiveness in every second word. I have a friend with the same first name as me. They call her “Little Di”. You’d think that would suffice to differentiate us. But, no, when we’re together, I get the honour of being…”Big Di”. I suspect it may be because I’m 5’10” and do not have the body of a ballerina. I’m a big girl and “Little Di is – just as the words indicate – little. I may have been hurt or offended at 13, but I’m all grown up now. And, in fairness, I did grow big.
As wordsmiths, we’re given certain guidelines with regards to what constitutes hate speech and speech that may incite violence and unnecessary anger. As reasonable human beings and responsible writers, we avoid doing that and pretty much police ourselves. But let’s not allow what we think may be “politically correct” to kill our creativity – and the English language in its current form. Black, fat and big are epithets and not necessarily insults. Single event drinking by Australians, however – well, that’s another story!