P.C. for the Deaf

The Telegraph: Limp wrists and slant eyes must go as political correctness demands new signs for the deaf

Political correctness has caught up with sign language for deaf people. Gestures used to depict ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals are being dropped because they are now deemed offensive.

The abandoned signs include “Jewish”, in which a hand mimes a hooked nose; the sign for “gay”, a flick of a limp wrist; and “Chinese”, in which the index fingertips pull the eyes into a slant. Another dropped sign is that for “Indian”, which is a finger pointing to an imaginary spot in the middle of a forehead.

The signs have been declared off-limits by the makers of Vee-TV, Channel 4’s programme for deaf people, for fear of being accused of racism and homophobia. Caroline O’Neill, a senior researcher at Vee-TV, explained: “We have a sign language monitor on the channel who checks that what we are doing is culturally appropriate.”

Critics labelled the move as silly yesterday, saying that the producers were interfering with “deaf culture”.

Polly Smith, the acting chairperson of the British Council for Disabled People, said that the changes were a form of discrimination.

“The programme makers at Channel 4 are interfering with deaf people’s language, culture and view of society, and that is a form of discrimination,” she said.

Now, I’m as anti-PC as the next guy. I root for the Atlanta Braves. I don’t see anything wrong with the Washington Redskins (as a team name, anyway). I think “African American” is a really confusing and awkward substitute for “black.”

But damn. Sometimes, things that we once thought perfectly normal become obviously offensive. These things seem to fit into that category.

Via memeorandum

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. whatever says:

    Isn’t it the intent of the “speaker” (signer?) that really matters? Using your reasoning, you would outlaw the use of the word “niggardly” since many (most) people think it is derogatory when the speaker is using it in a proper reference.

    And if all the potentially offended people knew it wasn’t derogatory, what’s the big deal? (and we could go into a whole discussion of the use of “nigger” by black comedians, rappers and the like which no one bats and eye at).

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, no. The purpose of communication is the get ideas across to the audience. It’s largely irrelevant what one means to say; only what one successfully transmits.

    Intent is meaningful in judging the character of the communicator who commits the faux pax. But it is hardly all that matters.

  3. Boyd says:

    Hey, if the PC crowd has forced the hearing world into changing our language, I don’t see why the “hearing impaired” (we can’t call them “deaf” any more, can we?) should be able to avoid their iron fist.

    And regarding “niggardly,” a D.C. official got into deep kimchee (oops, is that racist?) a couple of years ago over using that term. A whole bunch of people were up in arms over it, and if I remember correctly, he was eventually forced to apologize for using the term.

  4. Interestingly enough, the sign language used in Britain is different than American Sign Language. I’m not even sure if they are mutually intelligible.

  5. Paul says:

    I think people miss the point. Remember, that an integral part of sign is that it needs to be taught to the kids basically from birth.

    Sign is like hieroglyphics it often depicts things that are obvious. (or at least easy to remember) The sign for “sad” is a finger placed under the eye and pulled down as if to trace the path of a tear. If you saw someone do the sign you would know what it meant without being told. The sign for “cat” is the pulling of imaginary whiskers. Many signs are like this.

    What does a kid see when they see a chinese person? Or an Indian person? DUH!

    This is sheer stupidity.

  6. I’m not so sure that the Chinese one is offensive in the abstract, since that is a real physical characteristic of Asian people. Ditto for Indian–valid cultural characteristic.

    But a hooked nose for Jews? A limp wrist for gays? Holy shit.

    The “niggardly” thing was simply a victory for iliteracy, and profoundly depressing. To hear it suggested that “most” people don’t possess dictionaries (or don’t know how to use them, apparently) makes me want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my face.