Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What the heck is political correctness anyway?

How can an ordinary, everyday person-me, for instance-differentiate between language that is offensive and language that is not offensive, when the same word is used in both examples? For example, the word "moron". "Moron", of course, means retarded. I don't think there is any other meaning for the word in English. It used to have an actual medical-terminology use, in the olden days before almost any of us were born. It was a subcategory of mental retardation, at one time, when it was vitally important for some reason to differentiate between people with IQs of 40 vs. IQs of 20.

For some reason, that was once vitally important.

And a "moron" was a person with a relatively higher IQ than an "idiot" or an "imbecile".

Yet this term has no current medical meaning; it is, simply put, now only used as an insult. Period. It is used in place of "retard", "idiot", or "imbecile". Often preceeded by the superflous "stupid", (which could be read as a comment on the speaker's own language abilities, but I digress).

And lately, or in the last couple of years, heard often in the same phrase as "red state", as in "red state moron". It's related to the news-pundits' use of red and blue to color the states who vote Republican and Democratic in national elections, red being Republican and blue, Democratic. The phrase apparently means something close to "redneck", or perhaps knee-jerk reactionary. It's hard to keep the insults straight, and I prefer to read and avoid talk-radio, so I may not be totally clear on the latest uses of this...term.

So, back to wondering about "political correctness":

There is a medical blog often cited (in some circles) and a recent host for "Grand Rounds" (a weekly round-up of healthcare related blogs) called "Red State Moron". I suppose the title is an attempt to be ironic and satirical.

It is ironic; it is written by an obstetrician who also practices maternal-fetal medicine. He has, in fact, written several posts based on ultrasound images of babies who will be born-not to put to fine a point upon it-meeting the old-fashioned definition of that insulting and irritating and infuriatingly awful word "moron".

Since the blog's author did not respond to my email asking him how a practicing physician who will have to counsel couples prenatally diagnosed with a fetus whose birth will result in a child with intellectual impairment can use the word "moron" in the title of his blog, I thought I'd ask some of you:

Is my reaction simply "political correctness" run rampant?

mary ("Emily's mom", after all)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Main Entry: mo·ron
Pronunciation: 'mor-"än
Function: noun
Etymology: irregular from Greek mOros foolish, stupid
1 usually offensive : a mildly mentally retarded person
2 : a very stupid person
- mo·ron·ic /m&-'rä-nik, mo-/ adjective
- mo·ron·i·cal·ly /-ni-k(&-)lE/ adverb
- mo·ron·ism /'mOr-"ä-"ni-z&m, 'mor-/ noun
- mo·ron·i·ty /m&-'rä-n&-tE, mo-/ noun

The second meaning appears to be the point of the title of the blog. "Stupid," and even "very stupid," are not connotationally equivalent with "retarded" in our language. Very few people who use the word "moron" (a category in which most of the people I knnow might fall) would ever equate its use with being retarded. One could even say that the first definition above is a bit archaic--language and definition are fluid things.

Just my two cents.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

I agree with the anonymous commenter. "Moron" has lost a lot of its heft over the years. "Don't be a moron" is no more offensive, I would say, than "Don't be stupid". To be upset about an ironic use of the word "moron" by someone who deals with people who have mental handicaps (isn't that another word the PC police don't like?) is to be overly sensitive.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was tempted to agree with Bob. One old-fashioned word with no real defintion; no big deal. But when someone has been so hurt that they take the trouble to research the limits of the term, I have to look again.

How can anyone say "You are overly sensitive" without showing what a bully they are? If you step viciously on another person's toes, it makes no sense to run off without apologising.

Certainly it makes even less sense to announce later that "If such things really happen, even so, you weren't really hurt - and if you were, you shouldn't have been."

Wouldn't a normal person over ten years old just say Sorry?! At the time! What's with all this rubbish and posturing about what other strangers should feel, or think?

What's so brilliant about pretending that pain doesn't hurt?

This is the language of the beaten.

"It doesn't bother me" isn't an answer.

11:25 PM  

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