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February 28, 2007

The Evolution of Terminology

When I look at old surveys at work, I am intrigued not only by what questions the interviewers were asking (for example -- "if your wife earned more money than you did, would it cause problems in your marriage?" -- I'm so not joking: this was in the 1970 Detroit Area Study), but also by how they ask. For example, the 1965 Student-Parent Socialization Study asked white students if they had any "Negro" friends. After about a month of working here, I had gotten used to seeing the word "Negro" in surveys from the 1960s and 1970s. My jaw absolutely dropped to the floor, however, when I saw the question in the Socialization Study asking students their religion. The choices included all of the various Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox denominations, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist. The other choice was not Islam, not Muslim, but "Mohammedan." Being an (erstwhile) historian, I have, of course, seen the word "Mohammedan" used for Muslims, but not since the nineteenth century! I had no idea that sociologists -- yes, sociologists with Ph.D.s -- were still using this term in 1965.

Posted by eklanche at February 28, 2007 03:27 PM


These were fairly common terms until the 1970s, actually. "African-American", for instance, only entered the American lexicon around 1990 as I recall.

Posted by: khgarner at March 1, 2007 11:41 PM

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