In our mad pursuit of "political correctness" in American society today, one victim, I believe, has been humor. We need to lighten up a bit. There was a time when we could make fun of one another and not fear some national disgrace spread across the media and social networks.
Various ethnic groups have always gotten great joy out of ribbing one another. Norwegians, for example, have reveled in claiming that Swedes were really just Norwegians with their brains knocked out. Poles have been the targets of most everyone. The Scots take on the English. Canadians take on Americans and vice versa. And so it goes. No harm is intended, and we all get a good laugh out of it and order another round of beer.
No harm, no foul.
But today it is different. Certainly there is a use of language that is intended to harm and belittle in a serious way. Such efforts should, of course, be addressed. We now talk of the "N word." No one in polite society would dare utter the "N word" in its entirety today. It is clearly intended in modern American society to belittle African Americans. Given its history, this is understandable.
But I think we need to pull back a bit and not let such concerns riddle our language with slights that are not so intended. If someone wants to tell a Scottish or Canadian joke in my presence that makes fun of the Scots or Canucks and my heritage, I am not going to get my nose out of joint. Instead, I might come up with a responding insult and we might just see who gets the last laugh. I was recently told (by an Irishman no less) that a seven-course meal in Ireland is a baked potato and a six pack.
The late comedian George Carlin made a career out of looking into our use of language and how absurd it often is. He listed the seven words you can't say on television, for example, although I suspect most of them do get said today, if only on cable.
But again, we soften the blow by talking of the "F" word, for example, thus somehow pretending we aren't really saying it. There are countless other examples in modern American life. And it seems, oddly enough, that the newly accepted terminology is often lengthier than the original term now deemed a slur. Nothing weakens language more than adding syllables.
Push the envelope and inevitably some member of the "Politically Correct Police" will be on you. Thus it is very difficult to know when you can say something and when you can't. As a result, language and discourse are suppressed and something is lost in the process.
It seems to me we need to lighten up and save our condemnation for those slights that are truly meant to be taken seriously and harm, and let's still have our fun bashing one another from time to time. I know there will be many folks out there who feel otherwise, but I think we have lost something of the playfulness of language and the complexity of our relationships with one another when we take what may be said in jest too seriously, and especially when we take words out of context, which is often the case, especially in the media and on social networks.
In the end, it may say more about the absurdity of political correctness than what was said.
So yes, let's lighten up! And let's go have a cold one. On you, of course, not on me. I'm Scottish. "Tight as the skin on a sausage," as my Scottish-born mother used to say.
Lake Oswego resident Ronald Talney is a retired trial lawyer, writer and poet. In 1985, he wrote the official dedication poem for the statue Portlandia. Look for his column, "My World," on the second Thursday of every month in The Review.