British mustn't live in PC porch;Opinion

16th April 1999 at 01:00
THERE is a shelf in the porch by our front door where we leave kitchen aprons, slippersocks and hand-knitted cardigans from Grandma, the kind of things you wouldn't want the world to see you in. I tend to leave the sandals in which I type there too because my daughters are embarrassed to walk down the street in the company of their father's toes.

But we also deposit words too, I notice. "Mummy" and "Daddy" are usually left there on the way into school and picked up on the way back for further use around the house. Other words, less embarrassing but unfashionable to the point of being meaningless now, also accumulate in the porch. Who, apart from my wife, would think of taking the word "pantry" or "distemper" into the High Street in 1999?

A third batch of words gets folded and stacked neatly in the PC porch for fear of causing offence when we are out - "disabled" and "blind" are two. So is any noun that describes the race or nationality of a person whose skin is darker than one's own. It's so easy to be wrong-footed these days on acceptable racial terminology that it's often better to pretend you haven't noticed.

In 1948 Orwell prophesied that thought could be controlled by restricting the language, yet far from fearing the Thought Police, today many people actually advocate such insidious censorship. The BBC has recently decided to ban the word British because it is said to give offence to people living in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Having lived in Wales for a large part of my life I know that what gives offence is not the word British at all but the assumption that British and English are synonymous terms. Outlawing the concept of something being British within the British Isles is not going to help the English-Welsh-Scots-and-Irish Broadcasting Corporation get its points over more clearly.

Personally I intend to defy this Birtian edict, partly because "Britain" and "Birtian" are ironic anagrams of each other and I don't like the idea of one entering the language as the other is driven out, but mainly because "British" is a useful word when used correctly and it is always preferable to use a word accurately than simply ban its use - a course of action that works from the premise that people lack the intelligence to discriminate.

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