An uncommon word appeared in a front-page article in Thursday's New York Times: Negro. It made me wonder: Has the paper printed that word at any other point this year? This century?
The short answer is yes, but not generally as a descriptor for a black person, as rancher Cliven Bundy used it in today's article. It's been used 73 times in 2014, according to a search of the Times website, often when referring to baseball's Negro leagues or quoting people or stories from the era when the use of the term was more common.
For the paper, that era was the late 1950s to 1960s. I searched the archives for each year since 1900, creating the graph below of the number of times the word Negro — and not its plural — appeared.
The drop-off after 1968 is remarkable. In 1968, the Times used the word about 6,360 times (the counts are rounded by the search engine). In 1969, 5,310. By 1972, it was down to 632. There's been a small uptick since 2008, mostly related to discussion of the 1950s and '60s.
It's also interesting to note that the Times missed an earlier spike in the use of the word, which appears to have occurred in the 1940s. Google's n-gram viewer displays instances of the use of words in books. We tracked four expressions used to describe black Americans over time, as below.
The high point of that spike in the 1940s, by the way, came in 1946 — the year Cliven Bundy was born.
While perusing the Times archives, it was easy to stumble across articles and headlines that reflected the racially-oppressive era in which they were written. Like this one from 1910, a particularly egregious example of generally horrible usage:
In amazement, I tweeted that article out, prompting Neil Bhatiya of the Century Foundation to jokingly invite the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, to weigh in. She did.
So far this century, the Times has used the word "Negro" 2,822 times. We look forward to Sullivan's report.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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