Umberto Eco on political correctness

This article, entitled La pistola dell’Ostrega, appeared on 11 June 2004 in L’Espresso:

Correctness is a true and proper movement born in the American
universities of liberal and radical inspiration, therefore of the Left,
with an eye towards acknowledging multiculturalism and reducing some of
the ingrained linguistic vices that established lines of discrimination
confronting various minorities. And therefore they began to say “blacks”
and later “Afro Americans” instead of “negroes”, and “gay” instead of
the thousands of other notorious appellations reserved for disparaging

Naturally, this campaign for the
purification of the language has produced a true fundamentalism, which
has led to the notable case in which some feminists proposed to no
longer say “history” since it begins with the pronoun “his”, as they
thought this meant that the story was “his”, but instead to say
“herstory” – her story – obviously ignoring the Greco-Latin etymology
which has no gender implications.

However, the tendency
has assumed also neoconservative, or frankly, reactionary aspects. If
you decide to no longer call people in wheelchairs handicapped or even
disabled, but “differently abled” and after do not construct access
ramps in public places, it is evident that you have hypocritically
removed the word but not the problem. And the same is true if you
substitute saying “indefinitely unoccupied” for fired or “in a program
of transition to change careers” for dismissed. Who knows why a banker
isn’t ashamed of his title and doesn’t insist on being called an
operator in the field of savings. If it’s not working, changing the name
won’t fix it.

On these and an infinity of other
problems, Edoardo Crisafulli amuses in his book “The Politically Correct
and Linguistic Liberty”, which strips naked all these contradictions.
He takes on both sides, pro and con, and is always very entertaining.
Reading it, however, I came to reflect on the curious case of our
country. While Political Correctness exploded elsewhere, in our case it
was diffused and instead we are always developing more and more
Political Incorrectness. If, at one time, one would read a newspaper and
a politician would say: “As a politics of convergence is emerging, one
would prefer an asymptotic choice that eliminated single points of
intersection”; today he prefers to say: “Dialogue? To Hell with that
dirty son of a bitch!”

It is true that at one time in
old Communist circles they used to label the adversary as “horseflies”
and in speaking during a fracas, they might have chosen to use a lexicon
more incontinent than that of a longshoreman, but that was in a time
when there were no limits to what one could say – it was accepted as an
affectation – as was once the case in the gentlemen’s clubs of venerated
memory – where the gentlemen were not verbally inhibited. Today,
instead, the technique of an insult is televised, a sign of unconcious
faith in the valor of democracy.

It probably began with
Bossi(2), in which his manly hardness obviously alludes to the softness
of other people, and the appellation of “Berluskaz(3)” was unmistakable
but the thing spread widely. Stefano Bartezzaghi, writing under the
name Venerdi di Repubblica, cites the play of insults today in
circulation, but in good fun, all things considered

I too must contribute to the sweetness of Politically Incorrect
Italian, and as I have consulted a series of dictionaries and dialects,
permit me to suggest some polite and good-natured expressions with which
to insult your enemy, graceful words: pistola dell’ostrega, papaciugo,
imbolsito, crapapelata, piffero, marocchino, pivellone, ciulandario,
morlacco, badalucco, pischimpirola…[long, long list of like insults
removed for the sake of brevity].

(1) Ostrega can’t
be found in most dictionaries. I thought he was playing off the term
“strega” witch or “ostrica” oyster. This led me to wonder if there
wasn’t some deeper profundity there, but Vittorio emails to explain:
“ostrega” is an old exclamation in Venetian dialect. It may be a
euphimism for “ostia!”

(2) Vittorio also adds: in the
1980’s the Northern League, led by Umberto Bossi, had a celebrated
slogan “The League is the one that is hard” used against PC. That’s
where “celodurismo” comes from. I don’t know about “celoflocismo”. My
undestanding is that Eco is implying overtones of hardness and softness
as they relate to male tumescence. Alessandro also writes to explain:
Celodurismo is a neologism in Italian politics derived from the
(in)famous phrase by Umberto Bossi: “ce l’ho duro” meaning “I got an
hard-on and I can keep it up for hours!”, so that celodurismo means a
rough and boasting attitude which is typical of Umberto Bossi and his
mates of the Lega Nord political party. Actually, I never heard of
celoflocismo, but it surely derives from “ce l’ho floscio” which is
quite the contrary of “ce l’ho duro” so that celoflocismo means the
contrary of celodurismo.

(3) “Berluskaz” is likely a
combination of “Berlusconi” and “catzo”, saying that Silvio Berlusconi,
the Prime Minister and owner of AC Milan, is a motherf—–. Well, they
won the Scudetto this year, so deal.