I don’t think I fully understood or appreciated the effect political correctness has had on language until I took my car to the repair shop one morning last week. Ernie, the service manager who wrote up my service order, told me he’d call to let me know what his team found, to get my permission to do the work, and to give me estimates on the cost of that work. Later that afternoon, my phone rang:
Ernie: Mr. O’Brien?
Me: No. Mr. O’Brien was my father. He was older than me. My name’s Mark.
Ernie: Ha, ha, ha. That’s a good one, Mr O …
Me: Mark. My name is Mark.
Ernie: Right. Mark. Well look, Mark, we found quite a few things on your car that need to be taken care of.
Me: Like what?
Ernie: Well, for one thing, you need a new exhaust personifold.
Me: A new what?
Ernie: You know. It’s the thing that funnels all the exhaust gases from the cylinders into the exhaust pipe that goes into the muffler.
Me: You mean the manifold?
Ernie: Jesus! Don’t say that, Mr. O …
Me: Mark! My name is Mark!
Ernie: Right, Mark. But don’t say manifold. The line might be bugged.
Me: Are you crazy?
Ernie: No. We already got busted once for inappropriate language.
Ernie: Yeah. It’s when you say bad words.
Me: I know what inappropriate language is.
Me: Do you really have to go along with that nonsense?
Ernie: Well, to tell you the truth, we feel like we’re being personipulated for political purposes.
Me: This is a joke, right?
Ernie: Not at all. There was a person in here last week who was militant about that stuff.
Me: Was it a man or woman?
Ernie: They told me I couldn’t say.
Me: They? I thought it was just one person.
Ernie: It was.
Me: But you said they.
Ernie: I don’t write the rules. I just go along with ‘em so I don’t get fired.
Me: You never pushed back at all?
Ernie: I did once. They told me to go play tiddlywinks with personhole covers. Then my boss told me not to be disrespectful, but he whispered, “There’s too persony of ‘em to fight back.”
Me: Good grief.
Ernie: So, Mr. O …
Me: Mark!! My name is Mark!!
Ernie: Whatever. Do you want us to replace your personifold, or what?
Me: Just shoot me.
If it Quacks Like a Duck …
If you accept that all the technical stuff in writing constitutes its mechanics — spelling, capitalization, use of pronouns, numerals, symbols, punctuation, grammar, et al. (none of which we learn or care about anymore) — then we have a massive mechanical failure. We also have a failure of respect for language and meaningful expression. We do, however, seem to have a robust respect for (or at least a blind obedience to) political narratives, which is exactly why we are where we are.
If I can be banned for saying this, vilified for saying that, canceled, or otherwise punished for uttering or writing anything else that fails to conform to the political narrative du jour or the demands of any special-interest or identity group, that ain’t free speech, kids. It’s tyranny. We just don’t have enough respect for language to call it that.
Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. (George Orwell)
We have a mechanical failure of language. If we fix it, it’ll be a boon to hupersonkind.