There's a long and storied tradition of conservative jokes, memes and write-ups attacking the wages of political correctness — the use of hyphenated terms like African-American or Pakistani- or Mexican-American, for example. The words, conservatives argue, are a wedge. They and the attempt to force everyone to use them are problems unto themselves.

This Fix will be honest and say that we find little of that reasoning believable. Factually, actual bias and literal mistreatment matter. The language and ideas that might set the aforementioned in motion matter too, but in most cases, a little less. That's a good guiding principle.

But it's also an idea which conservatives have tried to apply without exception in recent weeks, as campus protests and concerns about major and minor slights, mistreatment and inequality have been openly derided.

These liberal students, many conservatives insist, are simply lobbing a bunch of complaints because they think the world should be a "safe space," free of microaggression. These students need to toughen up, they say, and prepare for the cold, hard world — not the lefty or extremely progressive and accommodating one of which they dream.

In truth, the complaints about political correctness, evolving group terms and things that might be regarded as offensive are quite likely far more closely tied to a sense that white Americans are being constrained and controlled by others than they are concern about national unity.

But this week, as the world's attention has turned largely to a major act of violent aggression — the terrorist attack in Paris and the risk of similar events around the world — there's a weird kind of reversal happening. It's conservatives who are insisting on the use of specific language — "radical Islam" — and declaring anything but that an affront, an offense and a failure to appreciate the true nature of the enemy.

Think about this: CBS' John Dickerson spent several minutes in an otherwise well-moderated debate Saturday night asking the candidates about the use of the term "radical Islam" and why Democrats want to avoid the term. And in the days since, Republicans have pounced with variations on this theme: Using the right words matters (suddenly). They come pretty close to claiming that word selection is vital to foreign policy and national security. One does have to wonder where that kind of attention to linguistic detail goes when, for instance, Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote in his Nov. 14 blog that terrorists are clearly not "leashed animals."

The world might collectively wish that language — just simply language — were our problem here. But alas, it is not. Deciding how to balance constitutional and security concerns, how to eradicate the Islamic State (or ISIS), how to minimize civilian and U.S. military casualties in any ground or air combat — those rank among the world's and certainly this country's real and pressing concerns.

Debating terms and then assigning blame for death, mayhem and terror to specific terms would appear, in this way, to be little more than a tremendous and meaningless distraction. Beyond the readily apparent hypocrisy from a party and voters who typically reject word-policing, there's the fact that using one term or the other does nothing at all to resolve any one of the items on that list of problems up above. There are life and death matters here, not fun fodder for word disputes.