Last week I showed trends in the use of the words “man” and “woman.” This week let’s look at the plural versions of those words. The results may be a little surprising.
As always, an intro to Google’s ngram viewer can be found here.
As was seen last week, the singular use of “man” has always exceeded the singular use of “woman.” However, in the plural…
Once again we must observe that the masculine reference to humans – “man” or “men” – can also be used as a reference to humanity as a whole: a linguistic reality that seems utterly lost on our hyper-literal parliament.
So given the fact that the word “men” can sometimes include talk about women, but the word “women” is never used to include men, it should be somewhat surprising that we are now more likely to talk about the female half of the human race than we are to talk about the male half of the human race.
In fact, Google’s ngram viewer has another interesting feature that’s useful for this analysis. Not only can you plot the absolute frequency of words, you can plot the ratios between words. Put another way, how much more likely are we to talk about women than we are to talk about men, and how has that changed with time?
Until about 1970 we were far less likely to talk about women than we were to talk about men. The number ranges from 10-30%, which means for every 100 times that we talked about men, women would be mentioned 10-30 times.
[Recall, of course, that “men” can include women, so the ratio should be a little higher to account for that.]
Starting around 1970 that ratio suddenly, and dramatically, shifted. Today, for every 100 times we talk about men – even in the generic “all humanity” sense – we talk about women roughly 130 times. It was only in about the year 1984 that we were roughly evenly likely to talk about either sex.
Personally, I think equal discussions around both sexes is probably a good idea, so the lack of talk about women prior to 1970 clearly wasn’t ideal. But obviously society is far more interested in women these days than men.