As if watching my university unceremoniously bow out of the NCAA basketball tournament was not punishment enough, I had to endure a battle with my ideological colleagues at the same time. It was certainly March Madness in more ways than one. As we watched our university throw away their championship hopes, the conversation turned to our day jobs and a topic I am very concerned with: political correctness and the ongoing loss of free speech in the United States.

I mentioned a professor from our department who told me that a journal once criticized him for using the word “seminal” in an article; since the word referred to “semen” it was, therefore, a masculine word and thus off-limits. I was appalled that, for instance, writing the sentence “Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a seminal work in sociological thought” could ever be grounds for censure. Unfortunately, the Brave New World of postmodern identity politics loathes free speech. Indeed, the brown-shirts of “progressive” ideology will be the first to tar and feather any who step out of line. Simply put, if you do not want to be labeled as a “racist”, a “sexist”, or some other “’cist”, you might not want to raise your ugly head in modern academia by going against the dominant strains of one dimensional thought. I know the punishment one will face because I live it every day.

In my conversation with colleagues, I recalled out loud a graduate seminar from a few months back where the professor explained to us that the word “penetrate” should be avoided because—like “seminal”—it has a masculine connotation. Shockingly, my colleagues seemed to agree with this assessment of “penetrate”. They told me that “penetrate” was a “sexist word”, and shouldn’t be used. I informed them that “penetrate” is certainly not a sexist word. At that, one colleague told me “well, it comes from ‘penis’”. At that I had to ask—was my colleague now a linguist? I thought we were studying Sociology! Unfortunately, my colleague had clearly not taken four years of Latin in high school; “penetrate” comes from the Latin “penetratus” and related to “penitro” meaning “to place within” (see and ). Indeed, the word “penetrate” has nothing to do with “penis” but, I guess, it is my colleagues who have their minds in the gutter.


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Its Not the Word Origin. Imags From: (Top) and (Bottom)


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The Cambridge Dictionary Seems to Have No Qualms With Using Penetrate Alongside Female Pronouns. Image From:


As if to prove my point, the announcers on the television in front of us lamented the failure our team’s offense: “they just cannot penetrate the paint” was a familiar refrain. Indeed one of the main tactics in basketball is to “penetrate the paint” in order to get as close as possible to the basket so as to have an opportunity for a high percentage shot.


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A Diagram Of How To Penetrate the Paint in Basketball. Image From:


Unfortunately for my university, however, the players were not able to do this. Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising: given that instructors at the university are all too happy to do away with the word “penetrate”, I should not blame the players for not penetrating the paint. After all, at this point, they may not have even known what the word means! As students and educators alike, we must all stand up to the attacks on free speech which are taking place on university campuses across the United States. If we want to raise the next great generation of American citizens, we must stand up in the face of fascism and censorship regardless of the form it takes. In fact, some might say that we must “penetrate” the walls which political correctness have erected around our thoughts. Who knows, it might just have a positive effect on our basketball teams as well.