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The Word Police by Michiko Kakutani

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The Word Police by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani's essay “The Word Police” is a refreshing look at a literary world policed by the Politically Correct (P.C.). She pokes fun at the efforts of P.C. policepersons such as Rosalie Maggio, author of The Bias-Free Word Finder, a Dictionary of Nondiscriminatory Language . But in mocking authors like Maggio, Kakutani emphasizes that efforts of the P.C. police are often exaggerated to the point of silliness and can even become a linguistic distraction from the real issues. In fact, such filtering or censorship of words can lead to larger problems within the English language: “getting upset by phrases like ‘bullish on America' or ‘the City of Brotherly Love' tends to distract attention from the real problems of prejudice and injustice that exist in society at large” (686). According to Kakutani, over-exaggerated political correctness just serves in complicating our words and diluting the messages. But really, the problem in P.C. advice on word-choice is the exaggeration of inclusive ness. Kakutani addresses the P.C. police's righteous motive: “a vision of a more just, inclusive society in which racism, sexism, and prejudice of all sorts have been erased” (684). But where does one draw the line between writing inclusively and walking on eggshells? What is politically correct? Must writers assume the worst of their audiences when debating whether to mutate the spelling of “women” to “womyn” in order to avoid sexist language? The truth is, writing purely inclusively is an arduous task; it requires consistent and careful consideration of many exterior elements such as audience, literary content, and societal context. An examination of these elements reveals just how difficult ...

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...eading community. This goes to show that sometimes it takes extreme action to produce meaningful results. Kakutani writes, “In the case of the politically correct, the prohibition of certain words, phrases and ideas is advanced in the cause of building a brave new world free of racism and hate” (687). In this way, the P.C. motive is honorable. And we learn that accountability can be a worthwhile tool for those who strive to better themselves. Therefore, the efforts of the P.C. police are to be equally criticized and applauded: criticized for over-punishing many of the language-abiding citizens, and applauded for their attentiveness to detail and determination to better our language for the sake of inclusiveness.

Works Cited

Kakutani, Michiko. “The Word Police.” The Writer's Presence . Eds. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.

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