Posted by: graceroxasmorrissey | October 19, 2013

The rocky shoals of diversity speak

These are grammatically challenging times for the wordsmith.  Not only do they have to append the word “challenge” itself in the past tense to any adverb that might potentially undermine a person’s hopefulness in overcoming any kind of disability (even someone dead may just be “biologically-challenged”) they also have to watch their pronouns for gender sensitivity and use of certain proper nouns to avoid untoward ethnic references.

And how forgiving is a 140-character Twitter feed to all of these?  How do we reconcile efficient bare-boning of words to match online attention span of nano-second durations, with the need to be politically correct though verbose?  Is it a solution to just use feminine pronouns in subsequent third-person references where gender is not specified or is it too self-consciously affirmative?

A lot of discord and at least one whole genre of comedy has been engendered by the political correctness movement and yet, because proper use of language is one of the markers of diversity awareness in an organization, it is a practical, day-to-day concern for communications professionals who not only have to navigate rocky shoals towards what’s multiculturally appropriate but also have to remain strong and compelling in steering the message.  It is also a responsibility.  Promoting diversity in business and the professions — and in the whole of society for that matter — is a constant work in progress and among those in the forefront of it are the people who shape the language.


  1. Week 3: De Lyser, Comment on The Rocky Shoals

    The art of writing has definitely been impacted by the need to be politically correct. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a singular pronoun that represented both sexes? It would eliminate the constant need for “he/she.” Of course, we’d also need a possessive of such pronouns to replace “his/hers.” Where would it end? I once had an editor tell me that I couldn’t use the word “landlord” because it was sexist. The politically correct term is “rental property owner.” Who knew?

    It’s also interesting to review the history of politically correct words. Take the African-American population. When I was growing up, the term “black” was politically correct. That has changed. I was horrified when the last year’s invitation to the office Thanksgiving potluck featured cartoons of Native Americans identified as Indians. Thirty-plus years ago, that wouldn’t have fazed me at all.

    It is our responsibility as communicators to make sure that our communications are sensitive to all in order to promote diversity in business. Many times, politically correct language makes for an awkward, cumbersome read. It’s challenging to write communications that are both engaging and politically correct. How do we serve both masters?

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