Up the garden path on mentally challenged paving

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The Independent Online
MANY people ask me to define PC and I tell them that it's either an abbreviation for a personal computer or a police constable or a postcard. This worries them, of course, because what they want to know about is 'political correctness', and they think that by even joking about the initials, I might be guilty of political incorrectness.

So I have given up joking about it and instead have prepared a leaflet that I hand out as soon as I am consulted about political correctness. However, I am now down to my last leaflet, so I have hit on the ingenious plan of printing it here today so that I can buy lots of copies of the paper tomorrow and cut them all out, for further redistribution.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

Political correctness may be defined as the art of not offending anyone for any reason. In the old days, people didn't know that you weren't meant to offend anyone, or indeed what fun it was, and they accidentally wrote and said things that today could never be written for fear of offending people.

As an example, here is a passage from a Victorian novel that breaks all the rules of political correctness. See how many transgressions you can spot:

'It must have once been a fine house, and indeed the mansion still had a certain grandeur, but as Rodney pushed open the small wicket gate and made his way into the grounds, he felt his heart sink, as if he were in the presence of an ailing relative. The fabric of the house was clearly unstable, but it was the condition of the garden that made him feel truly melancholy.

'From the ha-ha at one end to the nursery garden at the other, there was an air of decrepitude. The monkey puzzle trees, once firm and well trimmed, now sagged and swayed. The crazy paving on the garden path was uncared for and cracked. The bent old branches of the apple trees bore no fruit; the once gay colours of the Busy Lizzies and the Sweet Williams in the border were now conspicuous by their absence, and the dwarf azaleas seemed not to have bloomed for many a long year. Rodney felt a clammy hand round his heart. Death seemed not very far away . . .'

It's really hard to know where to begin. All the old words that cruelly suggest mental derangement are there, with the surprising exception of 'mad'. I feel worried, too, by the word 'ha-ha'. One knows very well that it is the name for a kind of garden construction, but it also suggests overtones of mockery, no doubt of the less privileged, which it would be well to avoid. If you were an ailing relative and you were reading this book, would you like to be told that a feeling of gloom was like being in the presence of an ailing relative? I think not.

I am worried, too, by the expression 'monkey puzzle tree'. Yes, I recognise that few monkeys are likely to read a Victorian novel, or, if they do, that they are unlikely to be offended by the expression. As a matter of fact, it is not the monkeys I am thinking of, but the inhabitants of Chile. The correct name for the 'monkey puzzle tree' is the 'Chile pine'. Can we not retain the respect of our South American cousins by correct nomenclature?

Nor do I like to dwell on all the offensive synonyms for 'short' and 'homosexual' and 'aged' that creep into this pasage - so perhaps the best thing to do would be to present the whole piece to you as it should have been written in the first place. Study it, and learn from it, and you will find that political correctness will soon become a way of life.

'It must have once been a fine house, and indeed the mansion still had a certain grandeur, but as Rodney pushed open the not yet full- sized wicket gate and made his way into the grounds, he felt his heart beat normally, as if he were in the presence of some senior and bravely uncomplaining aunt.

'The fabric of the house was clearly mentally challenged, but it was the condition of the garden that made him feel as if he were in a depressive stage before the next upswing. From the concealed wall at one end, to the vegetable garden at the other, there was an air of a life well lived. The Chile pines, once firm and well trimmed, now leant over gracefully with age. The mentally challenged paving on the garden path was deprived of its due attention and was mentally challenged. The homosexual branches of the apple trees were childless through choice; the once homosexual colours of the Busy Elizabeths and the Fragrant Mr Williams were now conspicuous by their being somewhere else, and the azaleas, challenged in stature, had not received the necessary support for many years. Rodney felt as if he ought to have a medical check-up. You could never be too careful . . .'

Well, it loses a little something, but it could offend no one and that's the main thing.

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