Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Semantics and Politically Correct Word Choices


In an interview on WNYC, David Miliband who heads the International Rescue Committee, corrected the radio host on a show about “migrations” from Syria, that they were not migrants but refugees: “Language matters, not for the reasons of political correctness, but because of correctness,” because migrants are people seeking better economic opportunities whereas refugees leave their countries in fear of persecution and are a classified category of people with rights under the Geneva Convention.

When speaking with Danes, the term politically correct came up several times: “We aren’t into political correctness as you Americans are,” said in a way as the entire U.S. was under a spell of a fad, like the popularity of gluten-free products. Their reactions were so unexpected, and our worlds so far apart on matters of race and racism, for example, that I could not find a way to explain to them that being politically correct was not some fancy accent we put on to make ourselves more intellectual.

These types of conversations later reflected national sentiments when an elected official and a newly appointed minister announced that he will use the word “negre” (the equivalent N word in Danish) instead of the more accepted “sort” (literally, black).

Words evolve in its meaning and its associations. I wish then, that I had the conviction of David Miliband to say that the “N” word to refer to immigrants and people originally from Africa, is not merely politically incorrect, but it is incorrect, unless they wanted to refer to a class of people the Danes ones enslaved. As equal citizens in their country, they deserve a new word to be correct.

I was unfortunately not at all surprised (though very disappointed) that the Danish government soon after launched an anti-refugee campaign.

Photo: A deserted pedestrian street at night in Aarhus, Denmark.


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This entry was posted on September 17, 2015 by in Culture, Denmark, language and tagged , , , , , , .
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