anti- ngram

We live in a world of causes. Just about everybody has some pet issue they feel passionate about, which is a good thing, but perhaps how we are approaching these issues deserves some reconsideration.

For instance, are we more likely to oppose something, or support something? Are we “anti” or “pro” in our disposition?

As always, if Google’s ngram viewer is new to you, I briefly describe what it is in this article.

Here’s what the ngram tool tells us.


Right away it seems clear we are far more opposed to things (“anti”) than we are supportive of them (“pro”). Or, more accurately, we tend to word our passions in a negative sense (i.e., those things in life we believe should be avoided) as opposed to wording them in a positive sense (i.e, those things in life we believe should be pursued).

But the plot thickens if you scratch the surface. Google also lets you click on time periods to see some examples of books that it found that included the word you searched for. Under “anti” you can find such titles as:

  • The anti-group: destructive forces in the group and their creative potential
  • Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England

  • Anti-rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll
  • Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics

And so on. But with “pro” you get titles such as:

  • Swing like a pro: the breakthrough scientific method of perfecting your gold swing
  • Pro Wrestling: From Carnivals to Cable TV
  • Beyond Pro-Life and Pro-Choice
  • Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball’s Early Years

The use of the word “pro” is quite diverse, which means the actual use of the word as a prefix indicating support of something (e.g., pro-life) is even smaller than the chart would indicate. And the further back in time you go the more frequently it was used in a Latin sense, so the higher usage near 1800 is mostly due to the fact that people still used Latin on a more regular basis back then.

Taking that reality into account it seems plausible to conclude that we are, maybe, 3-5X more likely to word our cause as a negative (e.g., anti-capitalist, anti-government, anti-religion, etc) than we are to word our cause as a positive (e.g., pro-life, pro-family, etc).

But one must also acknowledge the rhetorical value in labeling somebody else as “anti-” something. If I respect the humanity of an unborn fetus then I am said to be “anti-choice.” If I question the whole climate change alarmism I am said to be “anti-science” (or “anti nature“). So it may be the case that people do express their cause in a negative, but it may equally be the case that people use the “anti-” prefix to paint those who disagree with them in a negative light. That probably explains some of the increased usage.

Food for thought; wouldn’t it be nice if people could word their cause in a positive light, and if they might treat those who disagree with them with enough respect to avoid rhetorical ploys like that?

[Warning: shameless plug ahead]

Maybe we could start using the strategies I describe in my book, Arguing with Friends.

But perhaps that makes me anti-anti-.