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Can words change a nation’s attitude?


I have never been a fan of political correctness. My spouse can attest that too often I say what I think, not what would be the most appropriate comment.

Over the years I have owned a number of copies of the Associated Press Stylebook. It is a collection of rules for newspaper writers, part dictionary, part encyclopedia and punctuation guide, a source of information for reporters and editors that has become the Bible of journalistic etiquette and word usage.

I turn to it daily: Is the best descriptive term “gambling” or “gaming;” “first class” or “first-class;” “home field” (noun) or “home-field” (adjective) or “realtor” or “Realtor?”

My printed copies of the 2008 and 2011 Stylebook read, “illegal immigrant, used to describe someone who has entered the country illegally or who resides in the country illegally. It is the preferred term, not illegal alien or undocumented worker.”

“Illegal alien” fell out of favor before the 1995 stylebook update.

However, the AP has decided to ban the term “illegal immigrant” in AP stories. A person isn’t illegal, the argument goes.

But now the entry reads: “illegal immigration, entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.

“Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

“Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

“People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.”

The Associated Press does not favor “undocumented” because it is not precise. After all, an individual may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.

The evolution of the English language will likely find a reasonable and non-offensive term that won’t be five words long.

“I propose that we banish the term ‘journalist’ when referring to members of mainstream news organizations who pose as neutral news-gathers while carrying out a blatantly ideological agenda,” columnist Michelle Malkin suggested. “From now on, AP’s staffers shall be described in my columns as ‘alleged practitioners of journalism’ or ‘journalists’ only when using direct quotations.”

A recent survey finds that 71 percent of Americans say there should be a way for people in the United States illegally to remain in this country if they meet certain requirements, while 27 percent contend they should not be allowed to stay legally. Most who favor providing illegal immigrants with some form of legal status — 43 percent of the public — say they should be allowed to apply for citizenship, but 24 percent say they should only be allowed to apply for legal residency.

In 2011, there were about 40 million immigrants in the United States. Of that total, 11.1 million, or 28 percent, were in this country illegally.

If we are practicing political correctness on steroids, should I refer to a “burglar” who kicks in a door and steals your flat-screen TV as an “unauthorized guest?” Instead of “drug dealer” perhaps the substitute “undocumented pharmacist” might be more appropriate.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by email at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.