logical correctness

There's a difference between using a word and "mentioning" it–I mean, mentioning it without the quotes.  Mentioning it means you refer to the word qua word, not what the word means.  This is in effect what you do when you refer to someone else's words–he said "you're a jerk"–doesn't call you a jerk.  Reporters do this sort of thing all of the time when they refer to someone's words or accusations or whatever in their stories.  One not unfair criticism of the press is that this is all they do (i.e., the stenography objection).

But that objection concerns when they note they're mentioning someone else's words: "Obama said that McCain was xyz."  McCain responded, "Obama is abc."  Sometimes, however, you don't really know whether the journalist is using or mentioning.  Here's an example from today's New York Times business section:

Indeed, Wal-Mart has gone so far on some initiatives, like the environmental programs, that it has started to draw scattered attacks from the right, particularly from a group called the National Legal and Policy Center that has accused the company of giving in to political correctness.

While it's clear the author is talking about someone's accusation, it's not clear that "political correctness" has meaning independent of that accusation.  Since there's no gloss on what that accusation might mean, one might suppose it's being used, not mentioned, that the author, in other words, thinks that phrase is the proper description of the union's activity.

Besides, wasn't it once the case that "political correctness" referred to restrictions on representational content–one could not, say, use sexist or racist language in a public museum.  When did it become the case that conservationist environmental policies qualify? 

3 thoughts on “logical correctness”

  1. Typo in the first paragraph–it should be “Reporters do this sort of thing all the time when <i>they</i> refer to someone’s words. . .”

  2. Speaking of mentioning other people’s words…
    I don’t know whether you caught The Daily Show last night, but Barbara Walters was on promoting her biography–Stewart asked her whether she ever asked any dictators whether they were crazy, and she responded basically yes, but that you can’t ask the question that way; you have to say “Now some people have said…” or “Surely by now you’re heard the rumors that you’re insane?” So she made it pretty clear that when *she* wanted to ask a testy question, she routinely phrased the question as if other people were raising the issue.

    I think that misuse (or redefinition) of “political correctness” is tied up in the whole “academic freedom” crap. They want to howl about their views being suppressed, when their views have been rejected by all credible authorities. Climate change appears to be well supported by current evidence and models, but there are these other folks, untrained though they may be, who feel like their views are being suppressed (“political correctness”) if we don’t take seriously their opinions on scientific matters.

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