It's a joke isn't it. We smile knowingly because we're in the know. Ho ho, 'grammar fascists' we chuckle, confident in our grasp of the lingo being enough to hold the line against the attacks. We're canny enough to remember not to use the words 'political correctness' when the irritation rises at yet another perfectly normal, regular word that's shoved off the agenda by the language police.
Look folks, I'm good at this stuff. I've got a vocabulary way bigger than the average person. And I know that those different words for different things mean subtly different somethings. But when you see someone saying not to use the word 'stupid' because it's offensive to those with learning disabilities a little whimper of linguistic pain escapes. Why, why oh why oh why do people want to do this stuff? What do they gain by setting themselves up to police the language? And on whose authority do they act?
I get it that we should be considered, respectful and thoughtful in our choice of language. I also understand that communication doesn't happen if everything we say is set around with caveats and qualifications. And - most importantly - I take the view that most of this righteous policing of others' language isn't about that respect and consideration. Rather it's simply bullying. They're not interested in the actual content of people's speech but in catching them out using the wrong words - 'coloured people' instead of 'people of colour', 'migrant' instead of 'refugee', any number of commonly used words that might just have some sort of connection to mental illness.
What happens is that this policing of language, this poking away at words, is used by those who do not want discussion to achieve their end - the closing down of debate. If you look at how this so-called debate happens, you'll see that there is no such thing taking place because critics are either excluded or shouted down for crimes against the latest iteration of linguistic controls. The substance of the discussion is of no consequence, this is replaced by an unremitting focus on attacking the language used by the critic. Followed by complete closing of any debate through the exclusion of that critic from debate because of:
...white supremacy, colonialism, anti-black racism, anti-Latinx racism, anti-Native American racism, anti-Native/ indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Middle Eastern racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma, and classism,”
And when you cry 'free speech' in response you get some like:
...we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated that “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.”
This is not respectful but rather bullying intended simply to prevent any challenge to a prevailing orthodoxy of speech. The people who do this - whether on Twitter, on university campuses or through hectoring folk from the comfortable platform of a newspaper blog - are the worst of the righteous, smug bullies who use their ability to raise a mob as the basis for punishing the critic. And this is all done while moaning about abuse, blocking half the universe on Twitter (very publicly) and talking very loudly about trolls. Where the definition of troll in their world isn't anything beyond someone who won't bow to their bullying approach to language, to their use of that palette of the banned as a means to judge people.
But it's not enough to just ignore the critic. No, that person has to be crushed, humiliated, exposed as the evil bad person they are for daring to challenge your orthodoxy. Someone says 'perhaps we'd have fewer problems if we'd been less open to migrants' and they are blocked, their words twisted to make them 'vile racists'. And that blocking is celebrated - waved around like a bloody trophy in front of the other righteous: "look at me, I've dealt with an evil troll, look at me".
I don't think we should be rude. If I've genuinely upset someone, I'll be the first to say sorry. But most of what I've seen - the long list in that quotation above or the offence at some students making a pretty straight point about free speech - isn't folk being upset but rather bullies using others' fear of language rules to close down debate, to impose their selective, exclusive orthodoxy on others. I've lost count of the times I've been insulted during forty years of active politics - some of it just banter but a fair bit spiteful, aggressive, in-your-face insult intended to intimidate. Yet that's OK - trust me it's OK or the righteous would have done something about it except that it's mostly the same people - whereas someone making a mildly critical point about immigration, free speech or the portrayal of women in computer games gets metaphorically dragged kicking and screaming to the nearest pillory for all and sundry to abuse them for their sins against the language.
It's not a joke. It's not even political correctness. It's patronising. It's divisive. It's intimidation. And it's used by bullies.