One of the most common arguments by people who use the term “politically correct” is that people who say they are hurt by language are just being “oversensitive.”
Remember your friend whose boyfriend just died? Would you accuse your friend of being “oversensitive” at the mention of root beer floats, or sappy movies, or any number of other things that serve as a reminder of the loss? Most people wouldn’t, because your friend’s pain is culturally accepted as real and understandable.
Yet whenever someone’s pain goes against mainstream cultural norms, that’s when “oversensitive” comes out. Death is a pretty universal experience, but when it comes to things like sexism, racism, ableism, classism, and so on, not only is not everyone negatively impacted by these things, but by their very design some people suffer while others benefit—which creates an unconscious incentive to deny the pain experienced by people who are negatively impacted.
Radical copyediting helps language describe the best, most radical reality we can imagine—a world free from violence and oppression where all life, all identities and experiences, and all ways of making meaning are valued.
This means that radical copyediting is about helping people use language in ways that increase respect, love, and care for one another. The goal of radical copyediting is not to “correct” language for the sake of promoting one “right” way to use words—rather, the goal is to help people understand and care for each other across different identities and experiences.
In short, radical copyediting is not language policing.
United States mainstream culture promotes the idea that language is either “correct” or “incorrect” (in terms of grammar, spelling or pronunciation, word choice, and content). But language—along with everything else in this world—is so much more complex.
As a radical copyeditor and as someone who believes that words have incredible power for destruction, oppression, healing, liberation, and more, I understand language to exist on a spectrum from actively hateful to profoundly loving—and I strive to help people use language in the most life-affirming ways possible.
A few months back, I shared on my Facebook wall a fabulous short video from The Guardian in which Mona Chalabi explains why “grammar snobs are patronising, pretentious, and just plain wrong.” In my post, I enthusiastically proclaimed: “Radical copyeditors unite against grammar snobbery!”
Now, I share a lot of stuff on social media that some people might consider challenging. After all, I’m an activist whose passion is helping folks connect the dots between oppression and privilege based on race, class, sexuality, ability, gender, and more. Yet it is invariably my posts about grammar that incite the most heated reactions on my Facebook wall—so heated that I have to warn friends to watch their mouths.
On this occasion, I was flabbergasted when friends and acquaintances started insulting each other and raging over the idea that using less and fewer interchangeably might not be the worst possible offense.
Before you get it twisted, let me be clear: I would never argue that grammar doesn’t matter or that we should throw out all language rules and conventions entirely. Quite the contrary. I will go to my grave ready to launch into a passionate defense of the serial comma at a moment’s notice. Why will I throw down for some grammar conventions and not others? Because I’m a radical copyeditor.