PC spell-check

Ari Appel

Ari Appel’s blog “What’s In a Name?” examines linguistic trends at Whitman College and in public culture at large.

“Sorry,” my friend said. We had been walking across Ankeny, catching up post-summer, when he said that someone was “black.”

“African-American,” he corrected himself. “I have to get used to being back.”

In the context he had used “black,” it seemed fine to me. But still, to him it seemed that being back at Whitman meant he should avoid black altogether. He and other Whitman students have developed PC spell-check, which scans for whatever might be offensive. A thorough wipe of not-to-say, and conversation will run smoothly. But what is there to learn from that?

PC spell-check just dodges what is uncomfortable. It is about trying not to mess up. Instead, there needs to be a dialogue of people comfortably speaking their thoughts. This way, students will not fear being taken to make insensitive comments when they have simply not been informed. Creating an open dialogue is collaborative. The students and faculty who know these issues must be patient with others, and those who want to learn must be willing to speak freely. We can only learn if we are okay with being wrong. The hope is to establish beliefs more thought-out than a spell-check which needs re-booting every fall.