All right, maybe once in a great while it is. I would be skeptical of anyone who would prefer “vertically challenged” over “short.” But the fact is, despite the old saying about sticks and stones, words do have power.
Bill Bryson says in “Made in America”:
“All too often overlooked in discussions of the matter [of political correctness] is that at the root of the bias-free language movement lies a commendable sentiment: to make language less wounding or demeaning to those whose sex, race, physical condition, or circumstances leave them vulnerable to the raw power of words. No reasonable person argues for the general social acceptance of words like nigger, chink, spazz, or fag. But when the argument is carried to a more subtle level, where intolerance or contempt is merely implied, the consensus falls to pieces.”
The fact is, if you say “that’s gay” or “that’s retarded,” you don’t mean it as a compliment. It’s an insult, and therefore attaches negative connotations to people who are mentally challenged or gay. I myself have never used those words in that context. I don’t resort to derogatory stereotypes when I’m critical of someone, and you shouldn’t, either.
For one thing, it weakens your argument. I could say lots of things about a political opponent’s appearance, but that says more about me than it does about her. It makes more sense to attack the logic of her arguments. For another, to point out someone’s differences in order to make fun of him is just mean.
Conservative seem to think the word police are out to get them anytime they say something a bit off-color. The entry on political correctness at Conservapedia includes the following:
Demands for politically correct language usage are rooted in the notion widely promoted among left-wing academics and sociologists that Western culture promotes systemic oppression against some groups by marginalizing them and excluding them from the “norm.”
What?! How can conservatives argue with a straight face that this is not true? Blacks, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics, gays, women, the disabled–all of these groups and more have suffered from decades–centuries–of oppression in America. I think the very least we can do to right some of our past wrongs is be careful of the language we use to refer to our fellow citizens.
So please take care with your words. Think before you speak. It will make you a smarter–and nicer–person.