Writers —American writers at least—must, of a necessity, have a love of and respect for the English language. As a long time journalist, I aspired to have my columns and articles written correctly—meaning accurately, with not only grammatical correctness, but logical correctness as well.
I’ve always felt that a writer’s first duty was to be kind to his readers, and to me, that means being understandable.
Being correct—not politically correct.
And there is a difference.
To be politically correct—by its very connotation—means to be incorrect. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to license the term with the adverb “politically.” We would just say, “It’s correct.”
When I sat on the Historic Preservation Commission in Cape May County back in the 1990s, one of the members remarked that she was glad that a recently published history book referred to the Lenni-Lenape tribe as Native Americans, instead of Indians.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well, you wouldn’t understand,” she said. “You’re not a Native American.”
“Oh no?” I answered. “I was born in Pennsylvania, as were both my parents. If I am not therefore a Native American, can you please tell me of which country am I a native?”
She just stared at me, so I continued, “Or do you believe that I’m a man without a country?”
Again, just a stare, so I added, “There are only two kinds of Americans—Native and naturalized. My grandparents emigrated here from Europe, so they would belong to that latter group who became naturalized Americans. My parents and I are Native Americans—plain and simple."
Still, the stare, and a noticeable creasing of her brow. So I went on, “By calling American Indians 'Native' preclusively, you’re insulting the hundreds of millions of the rest of us who were born here. And by the way, do you know what the word ‘Indian’ means?” I added.
This woman still wasn’t speaking; she was just glaring at me. So I explained the etymology of the word to her.
“It comes from the ancient Sanskrit language, and translated literary it means, ‘original people.’ From its root we get the word ‘indigenous.’ So in miss-naming the people he found in this hemisphere, Columbus could not have been more accurate. Could he?
“Call them original Americans…” I continued, "call them indigenous Americans; call them American Indians…all those terms are accurate. But don’t insult me by telling me I’m not a Native American.”
So I’ll close by saying you’ll have to excuse me if I offend your sensibilities by preferring correctness over political correctness.
And remember, you can hear my commentary every Tuesday between 1-2 p.m. on “Cucina Chatter,” hosted by Lorraine Ranalli at http://www.wbcb1490.com/
Oh…and that member of the Historic Preservation Commission? She never appeared at another meeting. Veracity, exactness, accuracy, correctness…now and again these things just don’t sit well with some people.
In short, I’d rather be correct than politically correct.
For more politically incorrect literature, check out www.jimvanore.com.