In Lawrence Block`s novel, Tanner On Ice, Evan Tanner wakes up after being frozen for 25 years, going directly from Nixon`s first term to Clinton`s second, and being surprised to see that that Communism has died everywhere but Cuba, while in America, there have been changes. For example, his adopted daughter, last seen aged eleven, now is an adult who occasionally uses language that even adult women didn`t use in 1972:
These days the nicest sort of woman said words formerly reserved for male company. They even said them in magazines and newspapers, and on television.
On the other hand, there were words you couldn’t say anymore, like Oriental and girl. I could sort of understand why women didn’t want to be called girls, although I didn’t see why they wanted to make such a fuss about it. (And they seemed to be making less of a fuss now than they had ten years ago.) But how did Oriental get to be a bad word?
“It’s a matter of political correctness,” Minna explained. “I thought about doing a thesis on it, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be politically correct itself. It’s fascistic, a sort of fascism of the academic left, and it’s all based on the idea that we need euphemisms to hide the fact that we know we’re superior.”
“Superior to whom?”
“To the people we use euphemisms for,” she said. “Look how we keep changing what we call black people. First the polite thing to call them was colored people. Then it was Negro. Then that was an insult, and you had to call them Black.”
“And then that was wrong, or at least it wasn’t right enough, and the proper term was people of color.”
“What’s the difference between that and colored people?”
“I don’t know, Evan. I think people of color means anybody who isn’t white.”
“There’s a word for that,” I said, “assuming you absolutely require one.”
“That’s the one.”
“But then you’re defining people by what they’re not, and that’s supposed to be demeaning. Anyway, the current name for black people is African-American.”
“Because that had its turn a while back, although it never did catch on in a big way. African-American? That’s seven syllables.”
“Black is only one syllable. I have a hunch I know which one I’ll be using.”
“African-American might last,” she said. “Because it’s so cumbersome most people won’t use it. As long as most people don’t use it, it can remain politically correct.”
“The whole point,” she said, “is to show that you’re not like other European-Americans, and that you don’tâ€”“
“European-Americans? White folks?”
“Right, people of non-color. You’re not like them, and you don’t call black people by the same insulting term they do.”
“Insulting because they use it.”
“Exactly. Once all the rednecks start calling blacks African Americans, the P.C. people will have to come up with something else. But that may not happen for a while, because African-American is such an awkward phrase to say.”
“Especially for a redneck,” I said. “Speaking of which, how do they feel about being called rednecks?”
“I don’t think they give a f—,” Minna said, “but I don’t think it’s because they’re more enlightened than everybody else. I don’t think they’re paying attention.”
“Well, good for them,” I said.