Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

Third World. Originally, this term denoted the group of underdeveloped nations (especially in Africa and Asia) not aligned with either Western democracies (i.e., the “First World” — or “Free World”) or Communist countries (i.e., the “Second World”) during the Cold War. But as the world turns, so does the language. In his New Political Dictionary (1993), William Safire notes that “with the end of the bipolar geopolitical world in 1990, a multipolar world was spawned; the third world became the South in a North-South relationship.” Safire quotes Henry Grunwald from Foreign Affairs: “The ‘Third World’ urgently needs to be renamed, and not only because the ‘Second World’ has collapsed. The inadequacy of a label covering everything from dysfunctional non-countries in Africa to emerging industrial powers in South America indicates a lack of press understanding and attention.” NPD at 795. As Safire’s example above illustrates, capitalization styles differ on this phrase: The New York Times uses lowercase, while the AP Stylebook uses caps. The latter choice is more logical, since the original sense paralleled the always-capitalized Free World, which in turn had historical foundation in the always-capitalized New World. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “To treat the sick, you must have a good knowledge of the healthy. But it is even better to know something about the disease. If the writer means to fight for the best possible use of language, he must be forever on his guard against the elements the words a prone to.” Konstantin Fedin, “Notebook,” in Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexei Tolstoy, and Konstantin Fedin on the Art and Craft of Writing 256, 261 (Alex Miller trans., 1972).
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