“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.
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.