I have an ambiguous relationship with the language police. On one hand, I appreciate that discouraging the use of belittling, offensive, or just plain inaccurate language can move our culture toward inclusiveness and respect. I lived through the days of being called a “my girl” when what my boss meant was that I typed for him, and even before anybody thought there was something wrong with that, it used to make my skin crawl. But I used the phrase myself when writing about that period in my novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove
, and I dug in my heels when an editor suggested changing my references to the “boys and girls” of the Vietnam draft and protests to the P.C. language du jour: “young men and young women.” We were kids
, which was a lot of the problem. Nobody knew what they were doing! Especially the people who claimed to know.
As an editor, I’ve altered offensive language. “I thought he was only a clerk” worked just as well as “I thought he was a clerk,” and the writer never even noticed.
As I story lover, I’ve cringed every time I’ve listened to the audio recording of one of my favorite authors, Eudora Welty, reading one of my favorite stories, “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941), when I’ve heard the line: “Of course Mama had turned both the niggers loose.” I was surprised to discover many “N”-word lines rewritten in the 1980 edition of the collected stories. But this was done by or at least with Ms. Welty’s approval. (more…)