What is the problem with “politically correct”? Well, that phrase is useful, but the meaning of that phrase has been somewhat distorted, and the origin of the phrase is not especially clear. Consider the following and see for yourself.
- Politically correct (www.phrases.org.uk): Here the author avoids connecting the origin of the phrase with the communists.
- A little history of ‘politically correct’ (www.washingtontimes.com): Here we connect the phrase with Stalin and Picasso.
- Political correctness (en.wikipedia.org): Wikipedia waters down the communist connection by talking about how academia and the New Left took up the term. It is not so bad to be politically correct if the “in” crowd is correct, right?
- What the Hell Does ‘Politically Correct’ Mean?: A Short History (reason.com): This reason article makes the case that the meaning of the word has actually changed considerably within living memory.
So how is the term used today? The Wikipedia article goes into a large number of examples, include some from other nations. For the sake of brevity, here are a couple examples from the Reason article.
For some on the right, “P.C.” began to be a vague way to refer to anything left of center. “Un-P.C.,” meanwhile, became a phrase people used to pat themselves on the back, not just on the right but in the culture at large. By proclaiming yourself politically incorrect, you were announcing that you were a brave opponent of stultifying orthodoxies, even if your actual opinions were as vanilla as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
On the left, some people embraced the term defensively (at Michigan, several student groups opened the 1991-92 school year by adopting the slogan “PC and Proud”), while others foreshadowed Taub by declaring political correctness a myth. More recently, it’s become common to claim that what conservatives call political correctness is really “just politeness.” (And indeed, if someone uneducated in the jargon of the week unwittingly uses the wrong language, he may receive the same reaction he’d get at a society dinner for using the wrong fork. But I don’t think that’s what they mean.) (from here)
So what word should we use instead? How about “obsequious”? Here is the etymology.
late 15c., “prompt to serve,” from Middle French obséquieux (15c.), from Latin obsequiosus “compliant, obedient,” from obsequium “compliance, dutiful service,” from obsequi “to accommodate oneself to the will of another,” from ob “after” (see ob-) + sequi “to follow” (see sequel). Pejorative sense of “fawning, sycophantic” had emerged by 1590s. Related: Obsequiously; obsequiousness (mid-15c.).
Consider the dictionary.com definition.
obsequious [uh b-see-kwee-uh s] adjective
- characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning:
an obsequious bow.
- servilely compliant or deferential:
- obedient; dutiful.
The first and second definitions are the relevant ones. That last one goes back to the word’s older definition. Like “politically correct”, the word’s meaning has flip-flopped; it has just taken longer. Funny how words do that, but it probably has to do with our pride and our hypocrisy. We don’t usually live up to the labels we apply to ourselvess.
Anyway, calling someone obsequious has two fringe benefits.
- Most people don’t know what the word means.
- It sounds even more awful than it is.
So please make certain that if you call someone obsequious you are not immediately within reach. Better yet, may I suggest that you label behavior and not people.