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Is "poor" politically incorrect? Options
cavarden
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 12:34:39 PM
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I'm a translator, mainly between English and Spanish. A few days ago I translated a document from Spanish to English for the Central American branch of a big US corporation. In a paragraph having to do with corporate social responsibility, the Spanish original referred to "poor families", and that's what I wrote in English. A native English speaker who edited my translation marked "poor" as politically incorrect and noted that I should have written "economically disadvantaged".
Does anyone know if "poor" is in fact considered to be politically incorrect nowadays?
If so, I think this is silly (like many other instances of what is politically correct/incorrect). In my view, calling someone "economically disadvantaged" doesn't make them any less poor. What ought to be politically incorrect is doing nothing about poverty.
jacobusmaximus
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 12:56:47 PM

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Wealthy people can be 'economically disadvantaged' in certain circumstances, but poor families have nothing but poverty.
Doby
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 1:00:12 PM
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Perhaps the person who told you "poor" was politically incorrect was politically incorrect in their representation. Basically, because "poor" has so many definitions one of which is a person of low quality, using the word "poor" could be conceived as politically incorrect. Had you preceeded the word with "economically" then it is the truth and cannot be perceived in any way but the truth from your perception. But then what is economically poor? $1K a week would be economically poor to some and financially rich to others. There is a famous quote, "Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom". Is there anything that we as humans can say, write or think that would not cause someone somewhere mental discomfort? I think not.
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 1:27:19 PM

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I find it ironic that this question should arise around the time of the 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style. "Poor families" is simple, clear, and unambiguous and I wonder who on earth could find it unacceptable? The poor themselves? Doubt it. The wealthy? More likely. I agree with you that the comment by your English-speaking reviewer was just silly and you should ignore it you can. If poor is politically incorrect, it is nowhere near as incorrect as a lot of other words and I think we should strive to keep it in our usable vocabulary.
Drew
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 1:52:07 PM
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As far as political correctness goes, this is a new one by me. I just finished reading the 2008 Associated Press Stylebook. In it, writers are advised to use word like "elderly," "disabled" and "handicapped" with caution, but there is no commentary regarding the word "poor."

Personally, I don't find the word "poor" offensive, but at the same time, I don't find it hard to believe that an overly cautious editor might.
fred
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 1:59:12 PM
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Drew wrote:
As far as political correctness goes, this is a new one by me. I just finished reading the 2008 Associated Press Stylebook. In it, writers are advised to use word like "elderly," "disabled" and "handicapped" with caution, but there is no commentary regarding the word "poor."

Personally, I don't find the word "poor" offensive, but at the same time, I don't find it hard to believe that an overly cautious editor might.


Who are these poor Political Correctness Officials?
junior
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:15:47 PM
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cavarden wrote:
I'm a translator, mainly between English and Spanish. A few days ago I translated a document from Spanish to English for the Central American branch of a big US corporation. In a paragraph having to do with corporate social responsibility, the Spanish original referred to "poor families", and that's what I wrote in English. A native English speaker who edited my translation marked "poor" as politically incorrect and noted that I should have written "economically disadvantaged".
Does anyone know if "poor" is in fact considered to be politically incorrect nowadays?
If so, I think this is silly (like many other instances of what is politically correct/incorrect). In my view, calling someone "economically disadvantaged" doesn't make them any less poor. What ought to be politically incorrect is doing nothing about poverty.


If you write a sentence using "economically disadvantaged families", I really don't know what kind of family you are mentioning. It is because rich family may go through a "economically disadvantaged" period. If you use "poor families", I will know exactly what you are talking about.
Richard
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:20:28 PM
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Doby wrote:
Perhaps the person who told you "poor" was politically incorrect was politically incorrect in their representation. Basically, because "poor" has so many definitions one of which is a person of low quality, using the word "poor" could be conceived as politically incorrect. Had you preceeded the word with "economically" then it is the truth and cannot be perceived in any way but the truth from your perception. But then what is economically poor? $1K a week would be economically poor to some and financially rich to others. There is a famous quote, "Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom". Is there anything that we as humans can say, write or think that would not cause someone somewhere mental discomfort? I think not.



The quote from the Gospel of Matthew is incorrect. It actually reads (KJV), "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Also, the "poor" referred to in the Biblical text does not refer to those who are "economically disadvantaged"; rather, the "poor" refers to those who are consciously dependent on God, inwardly poor, having no ability in themselves to please God. It is common for people to quote this verse and leave off the very important "in spirit", which has nothing whatever to do with material wealth.
fred
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:25:01 PM
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Richard wrote:
Doby wrote:
Perhaps the person who told you "poor" was politically incorrect was politically incorrect in their representation. Basically, because "poor" has so many definitions one of which is a person of low quality, using the word "poor" could be conceived as politically incorrect. Had you preceeded the word with "economically" then it is the truth and cannot be perceived in any way but the truth from your perception. But then what is economically poor? $1K a week would be economically poor to some and financially rich to others. There is a famous quote, "Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom". Is there anything that we as humans can say, write or think that would not cause someone somewhere mental discomfort? I think not.



The quote from the Gospel of Matthew is incorrect. It actually reads (KJV), "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Also, the "poor" referred to in the Biblical text does not refer to those who are "economically disadvantaged"; rather, the "poor" refers to those who are consciously dependent on God, inwardly poor, having no ability in themselves to please God. It is common for people to quote this verse and leave off the very important "in spirit", which has nothing whatever to do with material wealth.


Why would poor in spirit mean dependent upon God? What does spirit mean?
Richard
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:43:25 PM
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"Spirit" here means the soul, the essence of self. Every soul is dependent on God, but not every soul recognizes that. Some see themselves as spiritually "rich", or sufficient in themselves to secure their own eternal well-being. "Spirit" can also be understood to mean one's attitude toward self and God. The spiritually "poor" have humbled themselves completely before God; the spiritually "rich" are full of hubris and feel they don't need God at all.
fred
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:59:06 PM
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Richard wrote:
"Spirit" here means the soul, the essence of self. Every soul is dependent on God, but not every soul recognizes that. Some see themselves as spiritually "rich", or sufficient in themselves to secure their own eternal well-being. "Spirit" can also be understood to mean one's attitude toward self and God. The spiritually "poor" have humbled themselves completely before God; the spiritually "rich" are full of hubris and feel they don't need God at all.


Why would they use the word Spirit when they meant Soul?
It would seem those who's lives are driven by God would be spiritually rich. While those devoid of God would be spiritually poor.
Richard
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 3:12:23 PM
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I think the word "spirit" is used because, as I said, what is meant is not just one's existence, but one's attitude as well. Those who put their faith in God, who rely on Him and what He has to offer, are spiritually rich. Conversely, those who deprive themselves of the Source of eternal life are spiritually poor.
Patrick
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 3:41:13 PM
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Unfortunately the English language is being sterilized of many meaningful and legitimate words, all to serve some groups' agendas. Poor is a perfectly suitable word to describe someone of limited financial means. I think it's safe to say most poor people are already quite aware of their being poor, so where is the offense? Perhaps the more offensive action here is editors and politicians carefully crafting sentences and altering meaningful statements so as to dilute the reality of what is being said. Does it better serve society to pretend there are no social problems? Please notice my the use of the word 'problem' instead of the more acceptable and less meaningful word 'issue' that is floating around so many boardrooms these days. Does it make your widget any less defective if it has an issue instead of a problem? Perhaps things would be corrected more quickly if Gary or Gail in R&D was told there's a serious problem with the design of something rather than using diluted euphemistic words like 'challenges' and 'issues.' The Tacoma Narrows bridge had a problem. There's nothing offensive about that, it's an accurate statement. Society would benefit from more clarity and less dilution and distraction in our daily language.
fred
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 3:47:50 PM
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Patrick wrote:
Unfortunately the English language is being sterilized of many meaningful and legitimate words, all to serve some groups' agendas.
Poor is a perfectly suitable word to describe someone of limited financial means.
Society would benefit from more clarity and less dilution and distraction in our daily language.


Poor is perfectly suitable by what group?
How can we establish and promote more clarity?
fred
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 4:22:32 PM
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Who is in charge of Political Correctness?
kaliedel
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 4:44:09 PM
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In my opinion, it's less about political correctness than accuracy. "Poor" is a very general term, almost vague to a certain degree - when applied to someone in particular, or a class of people, it's unclear as to what exactly is being implied. I would avoid it not so much for whatever offense it could cause, but instead to avoid confusion.
catskincatskin
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 4:59:19 PM
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I agree with kaliedel. From a policy perspective, describing a family (or a people, neighborhood, school system, whatever) as "poor" is vague. Describing the family as in "poverty" at least provides an idea of their income in relation to the district as a whole, as each administrative district in the US has a "poverty line." But this still doesn't account for or engage with the cause of the poverty. Describing a family as "economically disadvantaged" suggests that resources can be and should be provided to off-set and balance the disadvantages. While I don't think "poor" is a politically incorrect term in the sense of demeaning, I do think that it's simply not a very meaningful term in terms of policy making.
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 5:03:07 PM

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kaliedel wrote:
In my opinion, it's less about political correctness than accuracy. "Poor" is a very general term, almost vague to a certain degree - when applied to someone in particular, or a class of people, it's unclear as to what exactly is being implied. I would avoid it not so much for whatever offense it could cause, but instead to avoid confusion.

In the context of the original poster's document (a discussion of a corporation's contribution to its society) I don't think there could be any confusion about "poor families."
kaliedel
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 5:14:36 PM
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Luftmarque wrote:
In the context of the original poster's document (a discussion of a corporation's contribution to its society) I don't think there could be any confusion about "poor families."


But what does "poor" mean in this instance? Are they unemployed? Living in debt? On welfare? Is their yearly salary below a certain designation? Do they live in what many consider to be an impoverished area? Are they homeless, even?

My point is, "poor" could mean any number of things, and needs to be specified.
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 5:29:56 PM

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kaliedel wrote:
Luftmarque wrote:
In the context of the original poster's document (a discussion of a corporation's contribution to its society) I don't think there could be any confusion about "poor families."
But what does "poor" mean in this instance? Are they unemployed? Living in debt? On welfare? Is their yearly salary below a certain designation? Do they live in what many consider to be an impoverished area? Are they homeless, even? My point is, "poor" could mean any number of things, and needs to be specified.

Maybe cavarden could post the entire paragraph the phrase came from. I suspect that the meaning will turn out to be closest to "salary below a certain designation" or "living in a slum." I really really doubt that there will be any ambiguity about the meaning in full context, notwithstanding the wide reach of meanings poor can have. But I could be wrong.
cavarden
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 6:13:11 PM
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Luftmarque is right. Here's the paragraph as I translated it into English:
"In Honduras, Corporation XYZ and Association So-and-So joined to collect and donate provisions with the objective of improving the nutritional situation of 55 poor families."
As you can see, this is a third-world situation. The scene is possibly a rural village (or an impoverished area in a city). It's a matter not just of families who are in debt etc. but a more chronic social situation of underdevelopment, typical of many third-world places. In my view, the word "poor" is perfectly clear and accurate in this context. So, if it's not "politically incorrect" (as I gather the consensus seems to indicate), I think I will leave it as it is.
Thank you very much for your contributions.
P.S. - To Richard: Hey, I know my Bible too and I see you have a point, but let's not drift into that because the subject of the thread is different. The parallel passage in Luke 6:20, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God," clearly refers to those who are socially poor, as most scholars would interpret. I think Fred has touched the key nerve in all this--who determines what is politically correct? Why do we have to comply with anyone's assertion that any given word is politically incorrect?
Betsy D.
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 6:33:40 PM
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Funny you should mention political correctness. A friend sent me a quote today, something from the Marines, purportedly, which likens the concept of "political correctness" to the ability to "pick up a turd by the clean end".

I'm not poor, I'm just "cash challenged"... ;)
Betsy D.
Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 6:37:46 PM
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Luftmarque wrote:
kaliedel wrote:
In my opinion, it's less about political correctness than accuracy. "Poor" is a very general term, almost vague to a certain degree - when applied to someone in particular, or a class of people, it's unclear as to what exactly is being implied. I would avoid it not so much for whatever offense it could cause, but instead to avoid confusion.

In the context of the original poster's document (a discussion of a corporation's contribution to its society) I don't think there could be any confusion about "poor families."


Love the quote, Mark. :) Truer words were never spoken.
Akkuratix
Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 4:01:04 AM
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Maybe there is a question of "gobbledegook (!), words that make no real sense at all unless some bureaucratic official or politician is involved".Another ex. "Sanitation Consultant=Toilet Cleaner, Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant=Shop Assistant"! See further G Orwell`s book 1984. This all is nothig but a kind of "newspeak", usually ridiculous but unfortunatelly true in our nowadays societies.
raggie
Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 5:24:49 AM
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To me, this is about the way of thinking of who suppose description is rather important than definition. Boo hoo! influence differs in this way and this style is formal as well, and arrogant way. They even can't stand to hear the word "poor", so they try to pretend everybody is like them and nobody suffers from money that they have so much in their pocket which is hold in order to double it without thinking poors.
franziska
Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2009 7:14:32 PM

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I find the editor's criticism rather ludicrous. I've always appreciated the clarity and directness of English language as opposed to the often byzantine circonlocutions of my own language. It's frankly difficult to understand how one could wish to turn a perfectly clear and serviceable language into some obscure gibberish. Besides, most international documents state quite clearly what "poor" means, in third world countries as well as in Europe or in the U.S. within certain given ranges of income as compared with the average income of that country or area. UNESCO,FAO,ILO, E.U. documents speak of poverty. Why shouldn't we?
risadr
Posted: Monday, April 20, 2009 11:46:40 AM
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cavarden wrote:
I'm a translator, mainly between English and Spanish. A few days ago I translated a document from Spanish to English for the Central American branch of a big US corporation. In a paragraph having to do with corporate social responsibility, the Spanish original referred to "poor families", and that's what I wrote in English. A native English speaker who edited my translation marked "poor" as politically incorrect and noted that I should have written "economically disadvantaged".
Does anyone know if "poor" is in fact considered to be politically incorrect nowadays?
If so, I think this is silly (like many other instances of what is politically correct/incorrect). In my view, calling someone "economically disadvantaged" doesn't make them any less poor. What ought to be politically incorrect is doing nothing about poverty.


Well said! Applause

I wouldn't consider use of the word "poor" to describe a person (or people) living in poverty as politically incorrect, but my view of political correctness/incorrectness is slightly skewed from what I think most other people believe.

Calling someone "economically disadvantaged" seems a little pointless, given the current state of the economy, where everyone is at an "economic disadvantage" based purely on the fact that we are in the midst of a recession. It sounds to me like your editor is trying to make light of the conditions of the poor, or at least to euphemize their poverty, to make it less offensive to fat cat businessmen who have no desire to do anything about it. Brick wall
tscanla
Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2009 8:44:57 AM
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Does it better serve society to pretend there are no social problems? Please notice my the use of the word 'problem' instead of the more acceptable and less meaningful word 'issue' that is floating around so many boardrooms these days. Does it make your widget any less defective if it has an issue instead of a problem? Perhaps things would be corrected more quickly if Gary or Gail in R&D was told there's a serious problem with the design of something rather than using diluted euphemistic words like 'challenges' and 'issues.'

I too take issue with the senseless replacement of problem by issue. Just what is the problem with the word problem? By the way, I also cringe every time I hear "No problem" instead of "You're welcome." While I'm on this soapbox I want to sound off about what gripes me the most in 21st-century American English: the apostrophe-S plural, for example, two sister's, my problem's, several issue's (sic, very sic).

Another trend I've noticed in the past twenty years or so is the demonization of the word foreign, which is increasingly replaced by international. What's wrong with being foreign? Every time I leave my country I become a foreigner and am not ashamed of that fact. I used to work in a university where all of our foreign students were gradually replaced by international students. While that was going on the Foreign Studies major was replaced by the International Studies major. It appears to me that the phrase "foreign oil" is the ultimate use of foreign as a dirty word.
Epiphileon
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2009 7:35:35 AM

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In by far, the vast majority of cases, political correctness is an excessive amount of male bovine excrement.
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