What the language police miss about offensive words

What ever happened to the “I” in “offensive?”

I ask the question because it feels sometimes like that quality — being “offensive” — is increasingly talked about as if it were inherent to language itself. But of course that isn’t true. As beauty resides in the eye of the beholder, “offensiveness” is a function of the hearer’s or reader’s reaction. If I am offended by language you used, then the language is offensive — to me. The word makes no sense without that “I.”

Take, as an example, the latest tempest in a teapot: Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s use of the phrase, “sexual preference” in the following sentence: “I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.”


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