Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture / Edition 1

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Political Correctness is now an everyday phrase and part of the modern mindset. Everyone thinks they know what it means, but its own meaning constantly shifts. Its surprising origins have led to it becoming integrated into contemporary culture in ways that are both idealistic and ridiculous. Originally grounded in respect for difference and sensitivity to suffering, it has often become a distraction and even a silencer of genuine issues, provoking satire and parody. In this carefully researched, thought-provoking book, Geoffrey Hughes examines the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life.

Exploring the origins, progress, content, and style of PC, Hughes' journey leads us through authors as diverse as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift; Philip Larkin, David Mamet, and J.M. Coetzee; from nursery rhymes to Spike Lee films. Focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of political correctness, this outstanding and unique work will intrigue anyone interested in this ongoing debate.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Prof. Hughes' Political Correctness deals with both itshistory and its use at present. And he deals with both aspects in amasterly fashion. Consequently, this book is highly recommendablebecause of what it says as well as, what is probably moreimportant, because of the multitude of suggestions and questions itinspires." (Australian Journal of Linguistics, February2011)

"Some books are written to be read, and other books are referenceworks. Political Correctness: A History of Semantics andCulture is unusual in that it is both jam-packed with detailedinformation and yet makes for a good read. Everyone should readthis book and also keep it on the shelf as an excellent referencework. This informative and well written book covers more than justthe notion of political correctness (PC) in the narrowsense. It encompasses far more than the problem of increased, PCkinds of concerns, as discussed in Part I, Political Correctnessand Its Origins." (PsycCritiques, August 2010)

"Hughes ultimately comes down against artificiality, suggestingthat political correctness is a form of social engineering thatarises from good intentions coupled with Puritanism. A useful bookfor anyone interested in language and culture." (CHOICE, June2010)

“Hughes' book provides a wide-ranging examination of aphenomenon that has had an immense influence on our culture, forboth good and ill. Political Correctness: A History of Semanticsand Culture is an entertaining, thought-provoking foray into aninteresting and important area.  Hughes focuses mainly on theeffect of P.C. in contemporary Britain, America and South Africa,but he looks at earlier historical periods (such as theReformation) too.  This is the best book written on thesubject, and that by some distance.  It is an essential study,rigorous and critical and absolutely indispensable.”(Compulsive Reader, April 2010)

“Focusing on the historical, semantic, and culturalaspects of political correctness, this brilliant and unique workwill intrigue anyone interested in this ongoing debate.” (Lavoisier, November 2009)

"One must maintain a sense of humour when entering this arena,where voices of the global cultural elite sometimes presentthemselves as brave and daring for taking potshots at the sidelinedor powerless. An emeritus 'historian of the English language',Hughes knows a lot about dictionaries of every stripe, whetherorthodox or slang. He can provide the history of innumerable words,enabling readers to follow semantic changes, neologisms and otherevolutions in the 'word field.'"  (Times HigherEducation, November 2009)

New Scholarly Books Listing, (Chronicle of HigherEducation, January 2010)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405152785
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/24/2009
  • Series: Language Library Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Hughes graduated from Oxford, was an Honorary Research Associate at Harvard, and is Emeritus Professor of the History of the English Language at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the author of An Encyclopedia of Swearing (2006), A History of English Words (Wiley-Blackwell, 2000), Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English (1998), and Words in Time (1988). He is currently Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town.

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Table of Contents

Preface viii

Acknowledgments xii

Epigraphs xiii

Part I Political Correctness and its Origins 1

Chapter 1 Defining Political Correctness 3

Chapter 2 The Origins and the Debate 60

Part II The Semantic Aspect 85

Chapter 3 Words and Authorities: Dictionaries and Lexicographers 87

Chapter 4 The Evolution of the Word Field 106

Part III Zones of Controversy 113

Chapter 5 Issues of Race, Nationality, and Difference 115

Chapter 6 Agendas Old and New 178

Part IV Cultural and Historical Issues 215

Chapter 7 Political Correctness in the Past 217

Chapter 8 Culture 236

Conclusion: The Right Thing to Do? Progressive Orthodoxy, Empty Convention or Double Standard? 283

Bibliography 298

Author and Subject Index 309

Word Index 317

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