Thursday, April 07, 2011

Cletus is such a throwback

Syncretism makes three suggestions for Ngrams. When I was in middle school, I remember my older cousin's reaction when watching an episode of The Simpsons where Cletus returns a pair of boots to a telephone pole where he found them and says, "Back you go, to wait for a woman of less discriminating taste." My cousin burst out laughing. I didn't appreciate at the time that Cletus was revealing the high regard he held for his girlfriend, thinking instead that he was insulting her for being a shoe racist or something. Recalling that, I included "discriminating" alongside "discrimination", to capture the transformation of the word from complimentary adjective, which implied perspicacious discernment, into its present form as the wicked noun, found in the hearts of acrimonious, mean-spirited souls (click on each image for higher resolution):



The identification of the hate crime, a revolutionary advance in criminal justice, came about in the late eighties. And not a moment too soon, as it finally gave law enforcement an effective way to prosecute people for assault and homicide. Despite being told that racism has been around since at least the age of colonization, it actually sprung up during the sixties. Who would have thought?

5 comments:

josh said...

http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=bigotry%2Cbigot%2C+prejudice&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

FuturePundit said...

Reading Jane Austen I am struck by a sort of poverty in the modern usage of the English language. Assorted ideological warfare campaigns have stripped out words and buried forms of wisdom that were once more widely understood.

dearieme said...

"Prejudice" is another word to have been stripped of much of its meaning.

Audacious Epigone said...

Dearieme,

See Josh's link. It's a little tougher to measure a transition, though, since it's mostly found in noun form over the last 200 years. Prejudiced v. prejudice might get at the shift in the same way as discriminating v. discrimination, though.

fascist blogger said...

I think you might be interested in some Ngrams I created that were inspired by this post. I think that pairing discrimination with "discriminatory" or "discrimination against" provides an even better highlighting of the change in meaning of discrimination which seems to begin around 1880/1900. Those terms begin coming into usage at around that same time. Also, I found that social justice, Capitalism, and discriminatory all begin around the same time.

link to post:
http://thethirdposition.blogspot.com/2011/10/fun-with-ngrams-part-2-social-justice.html