Avoiding Alphabetical Microaggression

Whenever political correctness fades from the headlines, “new and improved” examples arise. Now the progressive language police want us to avoid microaggressions, to insulate everyone from potential mental distress, as when UC President Janet Napolitano’s website advised professors to avoid referring to America as a “land of opportunity,” opposing affirmative action as “inherently racist,” etc., to prevent aggressing on any hearers’ feelings. But at least teachers haven’t been threatened (yet) with an official “check your privilege” reprimand.

In the supercharged PC world ruled by fears of microaggression, nothing is allowed to be negative or twistable into conveying any negative connotation. Anything that could be construed as evaluative or judgmental must be avoided or expressed as positive. But because reality gets in the way of that requirement, clarity and analytical thinking are thereby often sacrificed to verbal contortions.

Even traditional children’s alphabet books violate microaggression protocol. “A is for Apple” could trigger thoughts of Eve’s role in the Garden of Eden story, which some might find sexist. “B is for Ball” has potential sexual overtones. “C is for Cat” and “D is for Dog” connect to verbal sniping (being catty) or being lazy (dogging it). We would have to abandon such books.

A microaggression-free alphabet book would have to mollify objections of potential psychic dents. Given the vast number of words and phrases people find ways to object to, it would be almost impossible. But perhaps the following almost alliterative approach — 3 As to match the 3 Rs — could work.

A can be for Attitudinal Antiquity, which can replace the potentially insulting “old fashioned.” B can be for Botanical Bankruptcy, a kinder, gentler way of saying that someone lacks a green thumb. Cranially Constrained can be substituted for stupid and Diplomatically Deprived for rude, so that stupid and rude people won’t think you noticed. Euphemistic Enhancements could replace accusations of lying.

We could use Follically Fortunate to avoid upsetting both the hirsutely over- and under-endowed. And being Gravitationally Gifted is certainly better than being fat. In the same vein, since no one likes being called egotistical, we could substitute Honorifically Habituated, and shy people could instead become Interactionally Impaired. Hurt feelings could also be avoided by substituting Judicially Juxtaposed for confused and Karmically Keen for superstitious. Similarly, criminals could be upgraded to Legally Lavish, schizophrenics to Mentally Mobile, and inattentive listeners to Neurologically Noncompliant.

We could turn slobs into people who are Organizationally Overburdened, and replace good-looking (a term which injures the psyches of those who don’t think it extends to them) with being Perceptionally Preferenced. Complainers can rise to being Quintessentially Querulous, bad dancers to being Rhythmically Repressed, and poor dressers to being Sartorially Stressed. Being old can be transformed into Temporally Troubled, a “lazy bum” into Ubiquitously Underutilized and someone who can’t hold a job into Vocationally Variable.

To fully dodge microaggression accusations, W-Z would best be left undecided, to avoid hurting anyone by implying that they couldn’t advance society with their own contributions.

This approach might allow us to pass microaggression muster (though that would end when people recognized the potential connotations of such substitute wording). Of course, few will know what others are saying anymore, hamstringing clarity and our ability to bring logic to bear in understanding or evaluating virtually anything. That would be particularly true of anything relating to social issues, given how many claim to be infringed upon by even the suggestion of disagreement with their understanding or their “solution” to be imposed. And it would not solve the problem, because nanoaggressions could then trigger outcries, and still more convoluted conversations will become necessary.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.