14 November 2013

Analysing trends in racists words

A recent holiday in Spain reminded me of the non-PC line in Blackadder II (1986) where, in the episode called Chains, he told his Spanish captors that he, "No speako dago". It struck me that the word "dago" had disappeared from regular use, and rightly so.

I was interested to see if this hypothesis was true and went off to Google Books Ngram Viewer to check.

Before making any conclusions it is important to note that Google is just searching for the words in its books and so the data is compromised by the data sampled and where words have multiple meanings. For example, looking to see which recent books have the word "coon" in shows many that are about Maine Coons, a breed of domestic cat.

These graphs shows some interesting things, such as the steady fall in the use of "coon" from 1900, the virtual absence of "wog" until 1920, the decline in "dago" from around 1940 and the decline in "wop" from around the same time only for it to start picking up again around 1970.

If the recent rise in "wop" can be explained in the same that "coon" can, e.g. it is part of "Doo-Wop", then the trends are all positive and we can note with interest when the tide started to turn in the use of each of them.

What surprised me was how early they started to fall into disuse when I had not expected this to be much before the 1980s.


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