You Can’t Say That! (Has liberalism taken a Soviet turn?)

It was in the mid-1980s that I first heard the term “politically correct,” from an older housemate in Berkeley. She had a couple glasses of wine in her and was on a roll, venturing some opinions that were outré by the local standards. I thought the term witty and took it for her own coinage, but in retrospect she probably picked it up from one of the magazines that she would leave on the kitchen table: Commentary, or maybe the New Criterion. The Cold War was in full bloom at the time, and it was clear to all in Berkeley which side deserved to win. She was on the other side. I was in my late teens; her treasonous perfidy was exciting.

Through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium, the phrase “politically correct” would crop up here and there. Among people who were credited as being sophisticated, use of the term would be met with a certain exasperation: It was needling and stale. The phrase had been picked up by the likes of College Republicans and Fox News, and if you had an ear for intellectual class distinctions you avoided it.

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