Quantifying Political Correctness

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

— George Orwell

I have always been annoyed by the American political correctness movement. Its reach is so extensive that it has changed some of the older words in the English lexicon.

In some cases, society has changed these words for good reason. For instance, it does not make sense to call a female postal worker a postman.

However, there are other times when it does not make sense. One word that the political correctness movement invented was “humankind.” Apparently, the word “mankind” was too similar to the word “man.”

Therefore it had to be destroyed.

How effective has the political correctness movement been in altering the English language?

Until recently, this question would have been impossible to answer.

Several years ago, Google compiled several million books into its Ngram Viewer. Users can enter common terms and phrases into the Viewer, and the Viewer returns how often these phrases occurred in a corpus of books over some period of time.

By comparing different phrases, users can follow the process through language evolves and changes.

The chart above shows that while the prevalence of “humankind” has increased, it has not overtaken the word “mankind.” However, the word “humanity” has.

In recent years, the word “multiculturalism” has overshadowed the phrase “melting pot” as the chart below illustrates.

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

I guess this is just a sign of the times.

Either way, the NGram Viewer provides an interesting way to quantify how a language changes over time, and may make it possible to quantify political correctness’ impact on the English language.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
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19 Responses to Quantifying Political Correctness

  1. pino says:

    For instance, it does not make sense to call a female postal worker a postman.

    I think even that makes sense to maintain. For the same reason we don’t wanna call it a “personhole cover. I’ve heard that certain women won’t accept the title “Chairwoman” because it implies a certain deference that they want no part of.

    Hell, if we want, we could go so far as to insist that we are not hu-man, but rather hu-person for gawd’s sake!

    • Fortunately “herstory” never stood a chance against “history.”

      In part, of course, to the fact that the word “history” comes from the Greek word “histor”, which has nothing to do with the pronoun “his.”

      My personal favorite is “womyn”

  2. Muticulturalsim and the melting pot are actually opposites and the shift happened in the ’60s leading to a hyphenated America. Today Europe is increasingly rejecting multiculturalsim as it implies the establishment of Eurabia. Even Mrs Merkel has taken a position on this.

    • I should have been more clear in my post. I just thought it would be interesting to show the shift as some on the left have been pushing multiculturalism at the expense of the notion of a melting pot. And it looks like they are succeeding.

  3. nickgb says:

    Well, humankind is just a stupid term.

    I don’t have the strong hatred of “mankind” you might suspect, but here’s what I don’t get: What’s the big conspiracy? What’s the politically correct “idea” that you think is pushing the change from mankind to humanity?

    • Don’t know. I suspect it is some desire to avoid using mankind because some believe it is a gender charged term. I don’t think there is any orchestrated conspiracy per se. I also don’t think it is supported by everyone on the left.

      However I think the change in language over time is an interesting topic in and of itself.

      • nickgb says:

        I just wanted to avoid confusion. Political correctness has come to mean changing a word simply to avoid hurting feelings (and honestly, I don’t see what’s so wrong with that, but whatever). The change from mankind to humanity seems to just be more inclusive and accurate.

        Change in language absolutely is interesting, and sometimes, it just makes sense to change words. There’s a lot of words from a hundred years ago that died out, there’s many more from two hundred years ago that died out. Older isn’t necessarily better, languages evolve, and honestly, nobody is seriously getting pissed over “mankind”. It’s just that many people choose to use the more inclusive term. I don’t think of that as being PC.

      • Moe says:

        Language changes constantly. Always has and always will and it reflects the changing world around it.

        • Language has always been a fascinating topic. It becomes even more interesting when you compare languages that have and do not have phonetic alphabets.

          For instance, because English has a phonetic alphabet, it is easier to preserve the sound of the spoken language, but harder to read as the writing changes with the language. Take Beowulf for example. However, the Chinese written form has barely changed since the time of Confucius (I think Mao may have reduced the number of characters), but I believe Mandarin speakers can still read things from thousands of years ago. That said, it is much harder for the Chinese to preserve what their spoken language actually sounded like back then.

  4. Pingback: Quantifying Political Correctness | Reflections of a Rational … -Political Fund USA

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  6. Scott Erb says:

    Interesting. I don’t like political correctness, though I do think eliminating sexism in language does reflect a cultural change of having women more equal in professional life. There are also studies that show it does impact young girls when the masculine is overwhelmingly used. So I’m not upset with that, though I still use “man kind” and prefer a melting pot to multiculturalism.

    And here in Italy it’s always ladies first to order, and chivalry is good manners. I’m glad that the Italians disdain political correctness. They have cut their smoking considerably though — not to the level of the US (we have 42 students here and none smoke – or if they do it’s so rare we never see it). I’ll have to look back at your posts next week when I’m back.

    • I still prefer “mankind” as well, though I sometimes substitute it with humanity. However the pseudo word “humankind” irritates me to no end.

      I consider melting pot and multiculturalism to be opposites on the spectrum of cultural assimilation. A melting pot implies more, while multiculturalism implies less, assimilation.

      If Italians are now smoking less, are they starting to get as fat as Americans?

  7. Given the quality of Italian and French food it would seem they ought to be fat. The world’s not fair.

  8. Moe says:

    I can come down on either side of this one, but do find myself using the old words.

    I get annoyed when people use chairman and chairwoman – when I was younger (a gazillion years ago), a designation in wide use was ‘chair’. Someone ‘chaired’ the meeting, attendees addressed the ‘chair’ and the person in the actual chair was called the ‘chair’.

    AN aside: the etymology of chairman – it’s from old english; hundreds of years ago many modest dwellings only owned a single actual chair, one with legs that could be moved. When guests were present, the one offered the ‘chair’ was usually the one with the highest social standing and it was always a man. Thus, the “chair man”.

    Also, we once used ‘they’ and ‘their’ as substitutes for gender neutral pronouns, something our language lacks. Don’t know why that went away.

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