The P-Word

Primitive shouldn’t be a naughty word

Today in my International Human Rights class, my friend used the word “primitive” …And then all hell broke lose. Why the oversensitivity?
The anthological definition of the word “primitive” is simply “Of or relating to a nonindustrial, often tribal culture, especially one that is characterized by a low level of economic complexity: primitive societies (American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.)).”
All Gerry was trying to ask if these primitive (gasp!) societies continue to rely on simple economics, whether they will be able to survive. He never got to the end of the question because upon hearing the word “primitive” the class reacted as if he had just hailed to Hitler.
And this happens all the time in this class. You can’t even question female genital cutting (notice the neutral term instead of “mutilation” actually used by the presenters on this topic), without being told to “get off your moral high ground.”
Society is becoming too oversensitive about words, especially those with multiple definitions such as “primitive.”
Or take a look how “physically challenged” came about:
“Invalid (a long obsolete term) became disabled, then became handicapped, then became disabled again, then became people with disabilities (the emphasis being on “people”), then became differently abled, then became physically challenged (the current term).”
Or perhaps a dark look into the possible future:
“The fireman put a ladder up against the tree, climbed it, and rescued the cat” might look like this:
The firefighter (who happened to be male, but could just as easily have been female) abridged the rights of the cat to determine for itself where it wanted to walk, climb, or rest, and inflicted his own value judgments in determining that it needed to be ‘rescued’ from its chosen perch. In callous disregard for the well-being of the environment, and this one tree in particular, he thrust the mobility disadvantaged-unfriendly means of ascent known as a ‘ladder’ carelessly up against the tree, marring its bark, and unfeelingly climbed it, unconcerned how his display of physical prowess might injure the self-esteem of those differently-abled. He kidnapped and unjustly restrained the innocent animal with the intention of returning it to the person who claimed to ‘own’ the naturally free animal.
The above to quotes are from the following Wikipedia article, which I also recommend for further reading: Wikipedia: Political Correctness

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