Pejorative term for an overly rigid or token adherence to a liberal canon of beliefs.
This novel orthodoxy first surfaced in the USA as lobbyists for disadvantaged minorities began exerting significant political influence; and, consequently, as issues of gender, ethnicity and physical disability were widely promoted as legitimate subjects for sympathetic academic scrutiny. Opponents regard political correctness as an arbitrary pretext for the misuse of power, and as self-contradictory in its stifling of free thought and expression.
A related derogatory term, PCism, refers to loaded, proscriptive or euphemistic use of language in an effort to redefine, or not cause offence, or to appear politically correct. Examples include ‘people of color’ meaning non-whites, ‘differently abled’ meaning handicapped, and ‘vertically challenged’ meaning short.
Political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is a term used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. In public discourse and the media, the term is generally used as a pejorative with an implication that these policies are excessive or unwarranted. Since the late 1980s, the term has been used to describe a preference for inclusive language and avoidance of language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting to groups of people disadvantaged or discriminated against, particularly groups defined by ethnicity, sex, or gender.
Early usage of the term politically correct by leftists in the 1970s and 1980s was as self-critical satire; usage was ironic, rather than a name for a serious political movement. It was considered an in-joke among leftists used to satirise those who were too rigid in their adherence to political orthodoxy.
The modern pejorative usage of the term emerged from conservative criticism of the New Left in the late 20th century. This usage was popularized by a number of articles in The New York Times and other media throughout the 1990s, and was widely used in the debate surrounding Allan Bloom’s 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. The term gained further currency in response to Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals (1990), and conservative author Dinesh D’Souza’s 1991 book Illiberal Education.
Commentators on the political left in the United States contend that conservatives use the concept of political correctness to downplay and divert attention from substantively discriminatory behavior against disadvantaged groups. They also argue that the political right enforces its own forms of political correctness to suppress criticism of its favored constituencies and ideologies. In the United States, the term has played a major role in the “culture war” between liberals and conservatives.