X of Y ↔ Y(ed) X

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Robert Ayers sent in this cartoon:
And asked "Was the 'colored person' fall from grace strictly a one off due to history? I see no movement from, eg, 'Asian person' to 'person of Asia'. Or 'Irishman' to 'man of Ireland'."

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to ignore the people/persons issue, and focus of the kinematics rather than the dynamics of the colored people to people of color change.

The Google Books ngram viewer makes it clear that people of color has recently taken the lead:

Looking at the ratio, we see that people of color is now about 3 times more frequent in the surveyed publications:

Article counts from the NYT archive lead to the same conclusion, with the difference that the overall sum of the terms increased more recently:

As for the dynamics of the change, and the answer to Robert Ayers' question, the driving forces are clearly the indexical connotations of socio-culturally loaded terms. But that's a subject for another day.



53 Comments »

  1. SFrankel said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 10:35 am

    native speaker of American English here –

    "Colored person" and "person of color" mean two different things to me. The first is an old term for African-Americans, memorialized in the name National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but otherwise obsolete. My grandparents may have used it.

    "Person of color" is a more recent term which indicates all non-European-Americans.

    All this seems to obvious to me that I don't understand the point of comparing the two, but maybe I'm living in a linguistic bubble.

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 10:36 am

    Well, the cartoon could well have elided two socio-cultural issues into one, had the left-hand caption read 'NOT "CONGRESSMEN"' …

  3. Lillie Dremeaux said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 10:50 am

    I think "people of color" came into being as a less bureaucratic way to refer to ethnic minorities. It never (I don't think) took on the same meaning as "colored people."

  4. bratschegirl said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 10:57 am

    "Colored people —> people of color" is mirrored in other turns of phrase that have morphed similarly, such as "autistic people —> people with autism," "AIDS victims —> people living with AIDS." My understanding is that this has for the most part been a deliberate effort led by the communities concerned, with the goal of centering the overall humanity of the group being so named, rather than centering one small aspect of them that makes them "other."

  5. Charles in Toronto said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 11:20 am

    @bratschegirl – that being said, it is not uniformly agreed. Many advocates on the autism spectrum explicitly prefer "autistic". https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/

  6. Gruen said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 11:25 am

    The parallel here would be the "person-first language" movement, which sought to substitute "(disabled) person" with "person with (disability)". I confess the rationale for this escapes me. This seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years for whatever reason (or perhaps I simply haven't encountered it personally).

    As noted above, "person of color" really replaced the term (ethnic/racial/etc.) minority, and is thus not at all equivalent in sense to the term "Colored person". It's surely impossible that the coiners of the former were unfamiliar with the latter, but there's no continuity between them.

  7. Theophylact said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 11:53 am

    I recall a story, quite probably apocryphal, that one of the Harvard College dorms had a sign up in the laundry room that read "Do not use same washing machine for white and colored laundry". Someone had "corrected" the notice to "laundry of color". A further note read "NOT FUNNY".
    Google does not support my memory here..

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 11:56 am

    One problem with trying to make "centering [on] the overall humanity of the group […] rather than centering [on] one small aspect" the norm is that the current obsession with monitoring ethnic take-up of various public (and even private) services forces one to think of oneself (and formally identify oneself) as being (e.g.,) "British White", "Irish White", "other White", "Caucasian", etc., etc., etc. I confess I usually tick "Other" which I then expand (if offered a suitable box) to "Homo sapiens". Either we're all just people, or colour matters — you can't have it both ways, it seems to me. I personally prefer to be (and to see others as) "just people".

  9. Doug said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 12:12 pm

    @Theophylact:

    A similar apocryphal story claims there was once a college with 2 bins for paper recycling: "white paper" and "colored paper". Some joker changed the latter to "paper of color," and the college responded by switching to "bleached paper" and "dyed paper."

  10. Rodger C said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 12:35 pm

    At least in 1999-2001, Berea College had recycle bins labeled, with no apparent irony, "PAPER OF COLOR." This is perfectly plausible for Berea.

  11. Linda said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

    And then there's Kentishmen born west of the River Medway, as opposed to Men of Kent born east of the river.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

    I think that they were traditionally "Kentish men", Linda (two words, not one).

  13. Robert Ayers said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 1:05 pm

    I thank bratschegirl and Gruen for the examples parallel to
    substitute "(disabled) person" with "person with (disability)"
    and thank bratschegirl for the suggestion that it is good to put the "personhood" first and relegate the disability.

  14. ktschwarz said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 1:16 pm

    Unless Google Books is way more sophisticated than I think it is, those measures are actually underestimating "people of color", since the acronym POC is common, often even used without expansion (whereas no one ever used CP for "colored people").

    I definitely saw the headline "Berkeley discriminates against colored paper" in the late 1980's: the City Council had discouraged colored paper for official use because it was harder to recycle at the time, and the newspaper couldn't resist.

  15. Mark Meckes said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 1:36 pm

    The Google Books graph suggests that the rise of "people of color" started well after the decline of "colored people". Which appears to further support SFrankel's suggestion that a comparison between the two is less well-motivated than their lexical similarity would suggest.

  16. George said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 1:42 pm

    Various adjectives have historically been used to describe people, e.g., Greeks, Jews, Catholics, blacks. Nowadays some of these usages may offend or be seen as risking offense. Interposing a noun is seen as more respectful. Thus "over the years, the most reliable Democratic constituencies have been Jews and blacks," becomes "Jewish voters and persons of color" and so forth. In my circles Jewish people pretty mjuch call themselves Jews, but lots of non-Jews say "Jewish person."

  17. Y said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

    I wonder how much of these peaks in mentions of "colored people" are due to spelling out the NAACP.
    Free persons of color was an official legal term in the antebellum South.

  18. Trogluddite said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 2:09 pm

    The trouble is that such terminology often appears driven by abstract socio-political theorising, not by self-identification and/or the everyday experience of minority communities. It is not uncommon that people will try to correct me when I use "adjective first" language when describing my experiences of being autistic, sometimes seeming shocked that I would ignore "expert" prescriptions, or even surprised to learn that autistic people have preferences of their own at all.

    When this subject comes up for discussion within autism communities (which it often does), objections to person-first language are often put in linguistic terms. For example, many consider that "with" carries the connotation that either the speaker or autistic people would prefer us to be "without" it, and/or that as an innate condition which colours every experience since infancy, it is nonsensical to imply a separation of the person from the condition. I experience autism as an integral part of my identity just as I do my other personality traits, as I cannot possibly know who I might have been were I not autistic; the "with" could conceivably imply a preference for replacing me with this unknowable person (I am not inclined to be so touchy!)

    It is also often held that person-first language is an atypical use of words, even a hyper-correction, and so attracts the very attention which it claims to deflect. The general feeling is that first-person language is not used out of consideration for autistic people, but is merely a set of parroted euphemisms prescribed by non-autistic people who's claim to speak on autistic people's behalf is on very shaky ground.

  19. Brett said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

    I first encountered "people of color" in this famous Bloom County cartoon:

    http://www.bizarrewordbazaar.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/bloom15.jpg

    I think the comic accurately portrays the situation in 1988, with "colored people" (and "negro") old-fashioned to the point of being borderline offensive, while "people of color" was still a new coinage, very limited in use. (I did not personally encounter "person of color" in the wild until a couple years after that comic came out.) What is unclear from the comic, however, is whether Berke Brethed or his (Gerphardtized) alter ego Steve Dallas understood the difference between the meanings of "colored person" and the much broader "person of color."

    Regarding terms for people with autism, I have seen the same kind of disputes over what the proper form of reference is, in the context of my own autistic son. As I am not the individual with the condition, I try very hard to use whatever terminology is preferred by those around me. Such preferences are by no means consistent or predictable.

  20. Trogluddite said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:01 pm

    @Brett: "Such preferences are by no means consistent or predictable."
    Indeed, even within the speech or writing of any particular individual. While I have a mild preference for "autistic person", I happily use the alternatives when I feel that it makes a sentence feel more natural or comprehensible, and take no offence at them. My own generalisations above should probably have been more qualified, too, as it's easy to forget that there are many autistic people who, whether due to their autistic traits, age, or environment, do not or cannot participate in those debates (and I wonder how such biases might work in other minority communities). Personally, I have never found that a person's choice of one form or the other is at all useful for predicting how "autism friendly" they will be!

  21. Bloix said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:41 pm

    I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being woke. But I do find that "Joyce uses a wheelchair" and not "Joyce is wheelchair bound" does make a difference in how I think about Joyce.
    I would like it to be possible for Joyce to say, "I am crippled," but that's not a place I expect to get to in our lifetimes.

  22. Ellen K. said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:57 pm

    Reading Bloixes comment just above, it strikes me that "Joyce uses a wheelchair" and "Joyce is wheelchair bound" mean different things. Not everyone who uses a wheelchair is stuck in it.

  23. Ellen K. said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

    Bloix's, not Bloixes. (There's a subject for another post.)

  24. David Morris said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 5:17 pm

    Slightly-tanned-in-the-Australian-summer pinkish-white is a colour, too!

  25. Ray said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 5:56 pm

    I often hear 'person of color' and 'woman of color' but I don't think I've ever heard 'man of color.' so maybe that adds to our understanding how people (need to or want to) slice and dice things.

  26. Uly said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

    @bratschegirl – that being said, it is not uniformly agreed. Many advocates on the autism spectrum explicitly prefer "autistic". https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/

    And it's not just autistics. Many people with other disabilities also prefer identity first language, and organizations that are run by people with those disabilities will often have pieces up promoting same.

    Reading Bloixes comment just above, it strikes me that "Joyce uses a wheelchair" and "Joyce is wheelchair bound" mean different things. Not everyone who uses a wheelchair is stuck in it.

    Yes, you could say "Joyce is a wheelchair user" and avoid the odd image of Joyce being bound into her wheelchair.

    I thank bratschegirl and Gruen for the examples parallel to
    substitute "(disabled) person" with "person with (disability)"
    and thank bratschegirl for the suggestion that it is good to put the "personhood" first and relegate the disability.

    Robert, if you can't remember that we're people without speaking in a funny way, that's on you, and it's really nothing to boast about.

    As a person with femaleness, whiteness, and atheism who also happens to be autistic, I'm begging you – stop promoting PFL. It's not God's gift to human discourse, no matter what you were told.

  27. Chas Belov said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 7:49 pm

    Preferred self-terms for Americans of African ancestry do seem to have gone through a shift over time.

    According to Wikipedia, in 1909, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, and Moorfield Storey founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1944, William J. Trent, Frederick D. Patterson, and Mary McLeod Bethune founded the United Negro College Fund.

    In my lifetime, I believe we have gone from Negro to Black to Afro-American to African American to Black. Black seems to be the preferred term now within the communities of Americans of African ancestry, although, not being Black, I cannot presume to speak for them. That said, African American remains sufficiently in currency that I sometimes feel awkward choosing Black over African American, and occasionally will swap one for the other. I also feel awkward over the matter of whether or not to capitalize Black and, subsequently, White, and am inconsistent about both.

    In Charles Burnett's fine 1990 film To Sleep With Anger, the husband and wife disagree on which term to use, although it's been so long since I've seen it that I forget which are the terms each of them preferred. And at work a number of years ago, there were hurt feelings resulting from one Black coworker preferring Afro-American and another not only preferring African American but considering Afro-American to be an outdated term.

    That said, the presence of disagreement during transition periods does not invalidate that change. As this site so often demonstrates, language change happens – and results in disagreement during transition periods.

    My theory has been that as older terms get picked up by pejorators, the community responds by moving to a new term. Then the cycle repeats. Although I'm not sure I saw that with African American to Black.

    The obvious problem with using Google Ngrams to test this is that the word black is used for so many other definitions that it would be difficult to track frequency of Black vs. Colored People vs. African American for Americans of African ancestry.

    But, yeah, Colored People and People of Color are not describing the same population.

  28. Chas Belov said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 8:05 pm

    Negro would be hard to test as well, since it means Black in Spanish.

    Here's the Ngram for Colored People, Afro-American, African American, and African-American:

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=colored+people%2Cafrican+american%2Cafro-american%2Cafrican-american&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Ccolored%20people%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bcolored%20people%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BColored%20People%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BColored%20people%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CAfrican%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cafro%20-%20american%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BAfro%20-%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BAFRO%20-%20AMERICAN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CAfrican%20-%20American%3B%2Cc0

    Here's the same Ngram adding Black and Negro.

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Colored+People%2CAfrican+American%2CAfro-American%2CAfrican-American%2CNegro%2CBlack&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2CColored%20People%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bcolored%20people%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BColored%20People%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BColored%20people%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CAfrican%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2CAfro%20-%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BAfro%20-%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BAFRO%20-%20AMERICAN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CAfrican%20-%20American%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2CNegro%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BNegro%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bnegro%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BNEGRO%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2CBlack%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bblack%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BBlack%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BBLACK%3B%2Cc0

  29. Chas Belov said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 8:14 pm

    I just posted links to case-insensitive Ngrams for:

    Colored People,Afro-American,African American,African-American

    and for

    Colored People,Afro-American,African American,African-American,Negro,Black

    which seem to have run afoul of the site's spam-catcher. Afro-American seems to still have currency, although it is far outpaced by the later rise of African American with and without the hyphen.

    With the understanding that Negro is also the Spanish word for Black, and that Black has many other meanings, both of those words dwarf the results for the other terms. Negro has peaks in 1945 and 1967 before returning to 1800's levels. Black use goes way up with peaks in 1974 and 1995.

  30. Chas Belov said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

    Sorry, Afro-American appeared to still have some currency as of 2000.

  31. Chas Belov said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 8:28 pm

    And it looks like my link post has now passed!

    My mother used to use the term Oriental for people of East Asian ancestry. While I never corrected her, I made sure to use Asian myself to refer to the same people we were talking about. Eventually, she started saying Asian. As she became quite elderly, though, she went back to Oriental.

  32. Weaver said,

    February 10, 2019 @ 9:25 pm

    As Trogluddite advises and Bloix alludes, while the transition "_____ed" -> "of _____" is probably unique, a more common swap (recently) has been "_____ed" -> "with _____". The idea, if memory serves, was to put "person" first in all cases, foregrounding personhood rather than the label, and often because there had been previous tendency to drop "person" or "people" entirely ("coloreds", "the disabled"), reducing, as it was argued, these people to their race/disability/etc.

    Anti-PC types could argue, I suppose, that such reductionist labelling was really only ever used (at least in relation to medical conditions) when the discussion warranted a shortcut (e.g. "policies to assist the disabled"). I doubt PC types would be dissuaded from the value of foregrounding personhood by that. I have little certainty about it one way or the other, but I'm certain I care one way or the other even less.

    Incidentally, I hope you are all appreciative that I deliberately used five dashes in the examples.

  33. Lars said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 1:15 am

    My, what an interesting discussion to pop up in my morning feed! @Trogluddite, that was very well put ("[D]riven by abstract socio-political theorising" – I'll have to remember that!). Also agree with Uly. One retort I've used several times is to call my interlocutor a "person with mother/fatherhood"; somehow they don't like having their reproductive abilities reduced to an accessory to personhood.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 4:27 am

    Weaver ("I hope you are all appreciative that I deliberately used five dashes in the examples") — OK, I'll bite. Why five, and why dashes ? The use of the latter negates any possible relevance of the former, since even at maximum zoom the dashes (which are, in fact, underscores) elide and cannot be counted by eye.

  35. Dan said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 9:10 am

    Chas, the process you describe has been coined the "euphemism treadmill" by Stephen Pinker.

    I agree with those above that it was not a change directly from "colored people" to "people of color". For one, the constituency described is different. The question raised is why is one offensive and the other is not.

    I think the "-ed" ending isn't just a way to change a noun into a verb, but it often connotes that something happened in the past to make the change from a neutral state to the current one. I'm thinking along the lines of "dyed cloth" or "pitted olives". Whereas "of [noun]" does not connote any change in the past. Specifically, "having color" already had a positive connotation in the larger discourse. Juxtaposed against the term "white people", it can imply that they are actually lacking in something that all others have.

  36. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 10:03 am

    I always thought that "people of color" was a word-for-word translation of gens de couleur — originally the French equivalent of colo[u]red people as used in the British Empire to denote mixed-race people (most recently in South Africa) — which came into currency under the influence of French postmodernist writings.

  37. Matt said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 11:00 am

    I wonder if there has been a similar fall in usage for "minority" or "minorities," which at least in some contexts has the same meaning as person/persons/people of color. It feels like POC has begun to replace minority, but it could be difficult to separate out minority/POC from minority/less than 50%.

  38. Rose Eneri said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 1:36 pm

    I agree with the first comment here, SFrankel's, that in the US, colored person has always meant a black person and person of color encompasses other colors, as well. So, they really are different terms.

    I must say I do not like the term African-American to refer to black folks. Two of my best friends are in fact African-American. They are from South Africa, are both of Dutch descent and are both quite pale. And of course, if we go back far enough, we are all from Africa. In terms of one's life experience, I think it is much more relevant that one is dark-skinned, than where their ancestors came from as of some arbitrary chronological cutoff.

    Regarding person first language, much of the current language surrounding autism is a result of the euphemism tread mill. I do not even hear person with autism anymore. It is now person on the spectrum. And not even on the autism spectrum; it's just on the spectrum. One big problem is that autism-related terms are now used in lieu of proper terms for intellectual disability. This can be very harmful to persons who have an intellectual disability. Intellectual disabilities can be cause by many things and in some cases can be improved with proper treatment that is different from treatments for symptoms of autism.

  39. Philip Taylor said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 2:00 pm

    I have to say, while I normally avoid PC terms like the plague, the idea of speaking of someone as being "somewhere in" (or "on") "the autistic spectrum" makes perfect sense to me. Unlike pregnancy, one is not either autistic or not autistic; I have known people who are markedly autistic, and I have known people who manifest mild autistic traits, and they are as different as chalk and cheese.

    In "the good old days", before PC reared its ugly head, we in Britain would speak of someone as being "coloured", a term which included quite a number of different skin tones from deep black to moderately brown, and which was intended to avoid the racial slur that calling someone "black" was thought to imply. Now "coloured" has fallen into disrepute (as far as I am aware, it has not been replaced, or even augmented, by/with "person(s) of colour" in British English) and if one is seeking to be polite, one might well speak of someone as being "black" simply to avoid the implied slur that "coloured" is now thought to carry. As I said in an earlier post, as far as I am concerned we are all "just people", but if I had to take part in an identity parade and was asked to identify someone verbally, then I might have little choice but to say "that black gentleman", or "that black lady", if that was the only unambiguous way to identify them (singular).

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 2:46 pm

    One of the many books authored by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., now of the Harvard faculty, is an autobiographical one called "Colored People: A Memoir," about growing up in what we would semi-anachronistically call the black community in West Virginia in the '50's and '60's as the old Jim Crow dispensation was fading but not yet completely faded away. Somewhere in the book he mentions that his own extended family included individuals of quite a range of different shades of skin, some lighter and some darker, although all visibly other-than-of-100%-white ancestry. I think (although it's been a while since I read it) the context in which he brought this up was to suggest that "colored" captured that range of variation better than subsequent alternatives did. Somewhat relatedly, in an earlier era when what we now think of as the "black" population of the U.S. was often described in more specific subcategories, with e.g. "mulatto" and "negro" being sometimes used as contrasting terms, "colored" may have in part functioned a useful umbrella term that captured anyone with enough African ancestry to not be considered "white."

    All of that said, I agree that as an empirical/historical matter "colored people" in its US racial sense got skunked and replaced almost purely for euphemism-treadmill reasons, not because of any more general phenomenon about noun phrases of the same form, or the dueling pop-Whorfianisms of "person-first" and "identity-first" descriptors.

  41. speedwell said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 6:14 pm

    We are now considering the fact, in one of my autistic groups, that several members prefer to call themselves "an autistic" much as I would refer to myself as "a diabetic" or "an American". A good many of them do.

    As for myself, I don't use a noun to refer to myself, but an adjective; I say "I'm on the spectrum". If the people I am talking to do not understand what that is, it gives me an opportunity to explain.

  42. Mark Metcalf said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 6:56 pm

    "Congresspersons"? I've always referred to them as "congress critters".

  43. Weaver said,

    February 11, 2019 @ 9:35 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    Erm, coz four dashes would have suggested another motive for using dashes. But now I notice they don't show as separate dashes anyway once you post so in every way noting it was joke that failed.

  44. Chas Belov said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 12:53 am

    @Mark: I too use Congress Critter. I also use Postal Person.

  45. Philip Taylor said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 5:46 am

    The British are in general, I think, rather more conservative in their adoption of linguistic change. We still have postmen, firemen, dustmen, barmen, doormen, etc., and these are the everyday terms used by the vast majority of the population. Recruiting advertisements will deliberately be more inclusive, but everyday language is noticeably resistant to such change. And we still have waiters and waitresses, actors and actresses (other than in the Guardian, of course), and so on.

  46. Trogluddite said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 1:45 pm

    @Rose Eneri
    There is much discussion in on-line autism forums about whether "autism" and derived terms are too generic. When needing to describe it, I often begin by pointing out that it may be more helpful to consider "autism" as a category rather than as a unique condition, as it would be quite possible to find two autistic people who's observable "autistic traits" barely overlap at all. Is considering, say, my alexithymia as an "autistic trait" really any more useful than to simply say that I am a person who is alexithymic? When I encounter difficulties, I often find it more effective to simply talk in terms of the particular "trait" which is causing the difficulty, and avoid introducing the term "autism" unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

    The fact that autism is diagnosed largely by social behaviours may be part of the problem, as such behaviours might be modelled as the secondary consequences of hidden cognitive and perceptual differences combined with environmental factors which may not be unique to autism (for example, some people with sensory disabilities which make reading/using non-verbal communication or prosody difficult report similar social effects to those experienced by many autistic people.)

    There may be a similar problem with generic terms for ethnicity/ancestry. When it is asserted that "people of colour" is the preferred term for Black US citizens, it seems to me that there is an unspoken assumption that the people to whom the term is applied form a single "culture" within which there is a strong consensus for self-identifying using that term. The danger is that the diversity of people within the group is forgotten, and that the need to use a single over-arching category is accepted without questioning its appropriateness. The ease with which counter-examples may be found (e.g. Chas Belov's former colleagues) may well contribute to the common accusation that the prescriptions of "political correctness" are driven by ivory-tower elites, whether that is truly the case or not.

    @J W Brewer
    My phrase of the day: "duelling pop-Whorfianisms" – I may have to steal that one!

  47. Marc Sacks said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 5:00 pm

    I think the contrasting term to "people of color" is "nonwhite." The idea is to refer to group members without reference to another group. Both "colored" (do you paint a white person, or will crayon do? This evokes blackface, alas) and "nonwhite" have this problem.

    "Black" versus "African American" raises the question of origin. Are "African Americans" only descendants of slaves, as opposed to African or Caribbean immigrants and their descendants (e.g., Barack Obama)? Then there are "black" people (e.g., Tamils) with no African ancestry at all.

    For what it's worth, Claude McKay used the term "Afrimerican." I don't think I've seen this word elsewhere.

  48. Trogluddite said,

    February 12, 2019 @ 7:25 pm

    @Marc Sacks
    The assertion of nationality in the "American" tagged terms has potential for awkwardness too. How then would a US citizen refer to black British visitors? Such a visitor might find it quite strange to be referred to as "Afro-British" or "British-African". "Afro-Caribbean" is the closest common BrE term of that form, but there is no everyday term of that ilk which is more inclusive. "Black British" might be seen, but generally only in a formal setting or when disambiguating nationality is felt necessary.

    For most of my forty-some years, "black" seems to have been remarkably stable in the UK as the most common term which is generally accepted to be respectful (lack of objection may not imply lack of offence, of course, and it may have different connotations to the US use of "black".) "Coloured" still might have been heard when I was a child, but I associate it only with people of earlier generations.

    This may be down to a typically-British linguistic conservatism, as suggested by Philip Taylor; but even if so, that is surely only one among many other drivers of, and obstacles to, language change. Did black people in the UK feel less need to assert their citizenship by referring to the nation in their language of identity (shared nationality is emphasised in some racial equality campaigns here)? Does the fact that US and British culture differ in how and when they express patriotism play a part? No doubt many more factors could be suggested. As alluded to in the original question, whatever the drivers might be, the pace of change varies markedly between different minority groups and between the various wider cultures in which they live.

  49. Philip Anderson said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 8:26 am

    @Philip Taylor
    While those terms are mostly still used (only a few posh hotels have doormen; clubs have bouncers), they are not the only ones. Firefighters are probably more common, bar staff are as likely to be female as male, a woman might an actress in a particular role, but an actor by profession. Not every Briton is as conservative as you.

  50. Philip Taylor said,

    February 13, 2019 @ 8:51 am

    Philip A. — I hope I did not suggest that the "man" ending is the only one used in British English; if I did, this was unintentional. What I was attempting to say is that the use of (e.g.) "fireman" is still far more common in Britain than the use of "firefighter", and the use of "actress" for (e.g.,) Joanna Lumley far more common than the use of "actor" (other than in the pages of the Guardian, q.v.). I do not dispute for one second that more woman now take what are traditionally male rôles than was once the case, but for many that do, "…lady" or "…woman" is the most common designation. For example. where I lived until recently in Kent, we had a retired post-lady, Eileen, who was always referred to as such — never a retired *"post-person" or similar affectation. Equality is not the same as identity.

  51. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 14, 2019 @ 4:14 am

    Re: "black" (or "Black"), for me it has strong connotations of "American", so it feels weird to apply it to somebody from, say, Africa. Is this a purely personal idiosyncrasy, or do others feel similarly?

  52. Philip Taylor said,

    February 14, 2019 @ 7:55 am

    Certainly not the case for me, but perhaps the forum software should be enhanced to display the appropriate national flag against each commenter's name so that it is clear from where each comes …

  53. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 14, 2019 @ 8:58 am

    FWIW, I'm Swedish, and dark-skinned people I meet IRL are far more likely to be from Africa than America.

    (I feel no similar connotation wrt to Sw. svart.)

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