Earlier this week Miss S had to visit the dentist so that he could ‘assist’ out one of her baby teeth because it has been refusing to fall out of its own accord for the past year. Three days later I am still trying to understand how tugging a tooth out with a pair of pliers can in any way be termed ‘assisting’. I appreciate that the dentist felt the need to sugar-coat the act for the benefit of my seven-year old daughter but when did we become so politically correct in our speech that dentists now have to ‘assist’ teeth out as opposed to – oh, I don’t know – pulling them out? I certainly hope the tooth fairy is paying her ‘assistants’ well because believe me, dentists that ‘assist’ teeth out are one step away from sporting fuzzy, pink wings and a gaudy badge that reads ‘Tooth Fairy’s Assistant’.
Today I read a couple of pages of Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance in which Ms Walker, quite correctly, encourages writers to use powerful, vivid language when describing something in order to add to the emotion and drama of a scene. For example:
He ‘strode’ or ‘marched’ instead of walked. He ‘thumped’ or ‘banged’ on the door instead of knocked.
So why don’t we follow the same advice when speaking? Instead, in order to be PC we lean too far in the opposite direction in our everyday speech to ensure that we don’t hurt anyone’s delicate sensibilities, and now use euphemisms such as ‘assist’ when we really mean ‘pull’.
When I looked up synonyms for ‘pull’ – surprise, surprise – ‘assist’ was not on the list. Neither was facilitate, aid, help or encourage. Instead there was draw, extract, yank, pluck, wrench – good one! – rip and root out. All powerful, emotive words which – don’t get me wrong – I am not asking the dentist to use. The last thing we need is patients fainting away because the dentist gleefully tells them that he has to wrench out one of their teeth. But there is a world of difference between using an inappropriately emotive word that has the potential to send patients fleeing out the door and an appropriate, middle-of-the-road word that does exactly what it says on the tin.
I guarantee that if a patient screams when the dentist tells them that he needs to ‘remove’ a tooth, it is not because they have been traumatised by his choice of verb. Far more likely to be the thought of the hefty bill that awaits them once the tooth drawer has finished wrenching, yanking, ripping and rooting out the offending gnasher.
So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save the PC language for when you are discussing potentially sensitive subjects, and instead call a spade a spade because as Shakespeare so rightly said ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.