The Surprising Origin and Evolution of Politically Correct

The Surprising Origin and Evolution of “Politically Correct”

The term “political correctness” originated in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Its initial usage referred to adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, also known as the party line. The phrase was also used in the 1930s to describe dogmatic adherence to ideology in authoritarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

It then came into common usage in the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, when Socialists and Communists clashed over Stalin’s alliance with Hitler. Communist party doctrine was called the “correct” party line.

Jewish educator, author, and activist Herbert Kohl explains:“The term ‘politically correct’ was used disparagingly to refer to someone whose loyalty to the [Communist party] line overrode compassion and led to bad politics. … [It] was meant to separate out Socialists who believed in equalitarian moral ideas from dogmatic Communists who would advocate and defend party positions regardless of their moral substance.”

In the 1970s, the American New Left began using the idiom politically correct. In the essay The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), Toni Cade Bambara said that “a man cannot be politically correct and a [male] chauvinist, too.” William Safire records this as the first use in the typical modern sense.

The saying began to be used more widely in the 1980s, as the civil rights movement and the women’s movement gained momentum. It was often used by liberals to describe efforts to promote equality and social justice.

The term has also been used in political discourse to suggest that certain viewpoints are being censored or suppressed in the name of political correctness. Some argue that the use of this term has been manipulated to dismiss valid concerns about discrimination and inequality and to promote an agenda.

In the 1990s, the phrase “politically correct” began to be used more pejoratively by conservatives. They argued that it was being used to stifle debate and promote censorship. The term has since become a common insult used by both the left and the right.

Today, the saying is often used to describe language or behavior that is intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of marginalized groups. It can also be used to describe language or behavior that is seen as excessive or unnecessary.