Friday, July 25, 2008

Political Correctness Gone Crazy

It seems that a British borough council banned use of the phrase "brain storm." I want you to try to figure out why they might have chosen to do that. I am betting you can't.

It seems that these highly empathetic people, not burdened by the strictures of a Second Amendment, were worried about the harm that hearing or reading this phrase might do to the psyches of those who suffer from, well, brain storms, as this term was used in the late 1890's until the contemporary use began to be used in the 1940's.

Interestingly, even after a group of epileptics, when polled, said they found nothing offensive about the phrase, the doughty councilors have resolved to stand their ground. The irony in all of this is, of course, that in deciding to protect epileptics from unfeeling people who like to call their brain storming "brain storming" they have managed to brand epileptics as damaged or defective in some way that I suspect epileptics will find offensive.

Our deep thinking councilors have come up with the alternative language "thought shower." It is just what one might have expected from them. Let me add that this phrase is inadequate to the purpose of describing an interactive group's efforts to solve some problem collectively. A brain storm, as I understand the phrase, suggests people throwing out ideas they bounce off each other either to be shot down or developed further. A thought shower does not suggest an interactive process at all. In rain showers, the rain typically falls straight down.

I think that people would do well to wait until some aggrieved group, such as epileptics, complain about a linguistic practice before they take action. Before seeing this story the idea that "brain storm" was at all connected to epilepsy had never occurred to me. I suspect epileptics would be more concerned with being treated badly in the work place.

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Blogger SusieQ said...

This is well written. A very humorous account.

12:04 AM

Blogger Kelly said...

When you said it was banned, I immediately thought of seizures of some sort. Interesting. I agree with you, though. It's kind of overly-parental of them.

(I suspect you meant "First", not "Second" Amendment.)

Anyway, what do you (or they) mean when you say it was "banned"? In what context is it banned, and what is the possible penalty for violating this ban? I simply can't imagine they could walk up to someone on the street who inadvertently said "brain storm" and arrest him on the spot. Well, I can imagine it, but it scares the hell out of me.

5:35 PM

Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Right, first amendment. I suspect that the council could actually affect only publications and public statements by persons under their control, such as legislative language. The less power these people have, the sillier was the exercise.

6:46 AM

Blogger Kelly said...

So I guess instead of brain storming, from now on everyone in this borough will now seize.

Offensive or not, it seems to me, from what I remember of psychology courses, a seizure analogy is quite useful to describe what we mean by the term "brain storm." My understanding is the synapses start firing back and forth, causing further synapse firings. This is why severing the corpus callosum (the part of the brain which connects the right and left hemispheres) is useful for treating very bad cases of epilepsy, because the synapses can no longer "bounce" back and forth. The storm analogy is therefore a good way to describe both a seizure and the practice of brain storming.

In any case, I suppose that digression was unnecessary. The bottom line is, if the people who have a right to be offended by something are not offended by it, then there should not be a problem. This is not to say if they are offended then we should invariably change our language, and I wonder how we should decide when to do so.

3:19 PM

Blogger Christiaan said...

This is a joke right?

3:23 PM

Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

Actually, it isn't a joke. I googled to try to find out an original source for my info and discovered that the Branbury Guardian had withdrawn the on line story referring to it. Fortunately, Google has a cached version of the story Banbury GuardianIn the course if googling I found several other cases of people worrying their pretty heads over the issue. Never underestimate the stupidity of humans.

4:47 PM

Blogger Adrian said...

Teaching here in England, I've come across this PC aversion to the phrase "brainstorm" in quite a few schools. I don't think it's a case of "political correctness gone mad" though. "Brainstorm" isn't entirely appropriate as a name for the process, and it may indeed be considered offensive by some people. If a sensible alternative is found, I don't think I'd be too unhappy to see the back of "brainstorm".

btw, I hope you recognise that the USA has been responsible for more than its fair share of PC neolocutions!

7:17 PM

Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

As I said, I see "brainstorm" as utterly irrelevant to epilepsy. The fact that some people find it offensive is irrelevant since there will always be people who find something offensive. "Black sheep" could be said to be offensive to Africans and African Americans but it seems that it is not. But it could be.

Yes, liberals in the US are the origin of lots of nonsense in this area. The problem is that some things genuinely are offensive -- Redskins vs Indians as a team nickname. When you toss too many things in this PC stew it loses its effectiveness.

12:30 AM

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12:19 AM


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