Recently, someone posted to a listserv that they taught in a rural community and did not have much “diversity”. Someone else wrote in to complain that that was offensive b/c just b/c the students are White doesn’t mean there is no diversity.
Taking the word diversity in its original meaning devoid of contemporary connotations and “diversifications”, the offended one is right; but looking at how “diversity” is used now, the original writer was only saying that the ethnic diversity in his school was low.
I can help. I remember when we talked about cross-cultural counseling and multicultural learning, etc. Those words became, for political reasons (which is why I no longer contribute to moretprs since one person said I should take my political comments elsewhere – how do you discuss these things without discussing politics?), hot-button words like “global” or “international” and the word-game went on to “diversity”. Supposedly we were being inclusive of handicapped people, homosexuals, women, and other groups that were not necessarily culturally different but suffered discrimination. (My own take on it, being present at the creation, is that people just didn’t want to talk about Blacks, Mexicans, and Indians anymore – in part b/c they couldn’t say “Mesican” and couldn’t pronounce “Chicano.)
“Diversity training” is one of those Madison Avenue (an old term for advertising and public relation firms) inventions that seek to smooth everything over and damp any strong feelings. Another one is “racism”; to my favorite group, “kids these days”, racism is singling someone out for criticism. “That’s racist, Mr. Barrett” applied either to a comment that some kids struggle with vocabulary (singling them out) or saying that not all Mexicans in Mexico speak Spanish (“Mexican” is a bad word). Any mention of ethnic issues raises red flags all over the place with these kids. The reason, of course, is that their parents routinely disparage minorities and they are warned not to do so in public.
One other word is ghetto, once meaning only a place or section of a city, a quarter, reserved for a particular ethno-religious group, most notably Jews and African-Americans. Now it just means a slum of any sort without reference to its ethno-religious make-up. Try convincing a 15 year old it once meant something else. (some may quarrel with my use of the word “reserved” above; forced to live there is accurate)
Anyone foolish enough, at least in the U.S., to use the word ’intercourse’ without a qualifying adjective such as ’international’, ’trade’, ’social’, etc. deserves the startled reactions they will surely get, because the word ’intercourse’ by itself is always assumed to be short for “sexual intercourse”. Arguing against this is like arguing with the wind: it’s just there.
Someone wrote into a listserv today mentioning the word “inclusion” and “inclusive” in a school setting; the “included” kids in a particular classroom turned out to be all Special Education students, showing that “inclusion” now does not mean actually included but rather students who are to be included (it’s just that no one has gotten around to including them yet).
Any basic introduction to linguistics will cover such semantic change.