''Baa, baa rainbow, green or happy sheep, have you any wool? Yes person (gender non specific) yes person (gender non specific), three (environmentally friendly trading standards approved) bags full; one for the non discriminative community leader, one for a generic religious denomination as well as one for the little person (no reference to dwarfism) who lives in a child friendly nanny state down the lane.''

My aim here is not to ruin a favourite nursery rhyme from your childhood, nor am I advocating a return to the days when the use of offensive words and patronizing depictions were the social norm, but rather to demonstrate the laborious nature and potential influence Political Correctness can have on the language we adopt and furthermore how PC may restrict open discussion, debate and future resolution.

As you may know in past years an inclusive, non-discriminative and PC version of baa baa black sheep has been taught in some schools to avoid issues of racism, but surely this creates further questioning, confusion and hesitation over speaking about such topics and even deters the use of the word ‘black’ in its acceptable non-abusive context. Generations to come will inherently fear speaking at all!

Is this very coined, blanket applied term hindering very basic and fundamental principles of social interaction? The original nursery rhyme merely states what the children will see in their life, they will wonder why they cannot sing “black sheep” like their friends in other schools and it is baffling for a four year old to look for this illusive multi coloured sheep and what does this child say when s/he sees a black sheep? To be fair the purpose and implementation of Political Correctness is, to excuse the pun, all a bit wooly.

“You can’t say that” is another golden nugget that has been promoted through Political Correctness. On the whole, the execution and policing of being politically correct sees people over-analysing the language they use and in fact hinders us from being able to gain clarification over our understanding of the topic in hand or even worse, to manipulate the coined phrase of PC to become an excuse for avoiding a conversation which may raise eyebrows, make us feel uncomfortable or may put us in the shooting line for causing offence.

The stilted framework that Political Correctness has given to conversation means the true and honest dialogues of society can only occur in private, in mutually agreed circumstances. I can talk openly about my “silly hand” with a colleague who also has Cerebral Palsy, but must give the full medical history of why I’ve spilt half of my cup of tea to others, because to use the term “silly hand” would provoke gasps and disapproving mumbles. Under the restrictions of Political Correctness I cannot express the personal, individual, human side of my condition, only the textbook answer with very stale unemotive, clinical vocabulary.

This ethos keeps taboos as taboos and ‘isms’ as areas of mass controversy. Political Correctness sees us addressing certain issues in the same way we respond to walking into an oncoming pedestrian on the pavement; we almost collide, but then have that awkward moment of apologising,  before rocking from side to side, deciding which way is the best to move forward, whilst avoiding offence, further embarrassment and trying to be polite.

I discussed disability in my final year of my degree, in particular my own personal disability of Cerebral Palsy, which is accurately and medically described by the word ‘spastic’ – “Oh you can’t say that”, “ It will just make people feel awkward”. This is what I do not understand, yes the word has historical degrading connotations, but in that instance, in that context, the word was being assigned by myself, to myself, therefore emanating to others that that language was inoffensive to me and acceptable to use – with this explained the topic could then be discussed openly without formidable accusations of being un-PC. So why are we so desperate to uphold Political Correctness when its impact is so flawed in its current form?

I agree with its initial aim to steer us away from offensive language and actions, but it most certainly should not be used as a vehicle for excuse or escape from talking about current issues which people may find uneasy; issues such as disability, race, sexual orientation etc are uneasy because they still need an open address if we as a society are to move any closer towards acceptance of difference, and the more Political Correctness limits the language we can use to do so,  it will further limit any positive progression over the matter – they will forever remain uneasy subjects.

However, there is also a responsibility for those who PC intends to protect to educate or even reinstate language that has been tarnished, prohibited. It is sometimes OK to say ‘black’, ‘gay’, ‘Spastic Cerebral Palsy’. In terms of the latter I would prefer that over a ‘disabled person’ (it just sounds like I am part of a huge single identity crowd) or even worse the politically correct ‘Handicapable’ – it just doesn’t make sense whichever way you look at it. I accept this is not applicable to all cases, but then neither again is a blanket application of Political Correctness. Language needs to be adapted on an individual basis and the focus should be on the intention behind its delivery; there is a difference between genuine intention and malice, inquisitive nature and humiliating comments and we must remember this, particularly when we are teaching language habits and traits to the younger generations; if they aren’t educated on how to correctly use different terminology, then how can we expect them to gain an understanding over different topics, topics which go above and beyond a black or white sheep.

Political Correctness cannot be understood conclusively or applied universally, therefore we need to stop using it to infringe other peoples’ understanding of topics and excusing ourselves from engaging in worthy debate. If we are unable to hurdle over our own very British awkwardness, and cannot take our language back down to the fundamental basics (for example, a black sheep is a black sheep) then we will never be able to understand the fundamentals of any issue, they will remain inaccessible and remain everyday taboos.