Look it up in your tree carcass

November 09, 1993|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Time to put your politically correct hats on.

When speaking of the riots in Los Angeles, the "R" word is, well, inappropriate.

Instead, the preferred description is a spontaneous display of community dissatisfaction with prevailing socioeconomic conditions.

As for the term "looters," no, no, no. It is much kinder to refer to them as nontraditional shoppers.

"Of course, if a nontraditional shopper is arrested for what he or she does, they do not become a prisoner because that's very insensitive and judgmental," said PC wordmeister Christopher Cerf, tongue firmly in cheek. "They become a client or guest of the correctional system.

"They stay in a 'custody suite' now, another new word we came across this year. It comes from London. A jail or cell sounds so oppressive. A custody suite is really a better thing to call it."

Mr. Cerf should know. He and Henry Beard, former associates of the National Lampoon, wrote the book -- excuse us, processed tree carcasses -- on the politically correct.

And now they're back with an updated version of last year's "The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook" (Villard Books; $10).

"I'm amazed [PC] is still around and that people are still talking about it; not amazed, but I'm surprised at the level of it," Mr. Cerf said.

The updated dictionary contains about 100 changes or additions, such as "Latino/Latina," which is considered more appropriate than Hispanic.

There is a satiric edge to other entries. For instance, an ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, or ex-girlfriend is now an "insignificant other" and the suggested term for houseplant is " botanical companion." And who hasn't committed "alphabetism," the "widespread and arbitrary privileging of persons, institutions and nations whose names begin with letters that come early in the alphabet, and the oppression of those whose names do not."

If Walt Disney made "Bambi" today, would he be accused of "feelism" -- "bias in favor of fuzzy, furry or cuddly organisms over ones that are slimy and clammy"?

"I actually do find that just when I think we've gone too far, I run across somebody who really talks this way," Mr. Cerf said.

The authors come by their terms through a variety of means, including reader contributions, processed tree carcasses, including newspapers and other publications, and the American Hyphen Society, whose motto is, "It became necessary to destroy the language in order to save it."

"We call it investigative satire, and it is really based on reality and it is researched," Mr. Cerf said. "In fact, the main reason we put the source notes in back is no one believed that we actually found all this stuff, and we had to say where we found it."

To PC or not to PC. That is the question these days.

"Being overly PC is breeding rebels and rebellious acts. It's PC backlash," according to USA Today.

"What's really happened here, I think the entire movement has been exaggerated," Mr. Cerf said. "We certainly do that a bit for humorous purposes, and that maybe opponents of diversity and stuff have overdone it for political reasons and that's allowed too, but everybody's overreacted a little. I think everybody has lost their sense of humor about this. And it's funny, you know, some of it. How can you not laugh?"

The real concern is the threat to free speech and the trivialization of serious issues, Mr. Cerf said.

"Handi-capable [gifted with a physical disability] is a word that makes me cringe," he said. "You have to admit that whoever made it up probably really meant well. It's not somebody with a horrible political agenda who thought that up. If you start taking words like that to the extreme, you'll make up a glowing term for everything."

The authors are working on a spin doctors handbook after receiving favorable reaction to the chapter in their dictionary called "Know Your Oppressor: A Bilingual Glossary of Bureaucratically Suitable (BS) Language."

"Everybody does it, of course," Mr. Cerf said. "The spin doctors book will take the position that this language is wonderful and you can get away with anything if you use it. . . ."

WORDS, WORDS

Here are some of the phrases and terms added to this year's update of "The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook":

Alternatively concise: Verbose, long-winded.

Contributions: Tax payments.

Cultural tourism: Any attempt by a member of the dominant group to show an interest in, sample or adopt the icons of a culture other than his or her own.

Electorally slighted: An appropriately nonjudgmental term for a losing political candidate.

Investments: Government spending.

Mechanical-American: A robot manufactured or employed in the United States or its territories.

Nongoal-oriented members of society: A nonjudgmental term for those once dismissed as bums.

Pedal sizism: Oppression of those whose feet are larger than the norm.

Previously enjoyed sound bite: A cliche.

Revenue enhancement: Tax increase.

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