A recency illusion

I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I use positive anymore. In fact, I have a very clear memory, from when I was a teenager, of what seems to me to be the first time I ever heard someone use “anymore” in this way. I remember it sounding very weird, but at some point before too long, I noticed myself using it, too

A quick aside: during one semester in grad school at the University of Hawai`i, a bunch of non-midwestern students in a sociolinguistics class found out that positive anymore exists and that I am from Indiana, at which point a number of them tried to elicit it from me without telling me what they were doing. That made for some very strange, and strained, conversation for a day or two.

Anyway, knowing what I know about linguistic usage intuitions and actual linguistic usage patterns (i.e., that the two don’t necessarily, or even typically, match up well), I’m guessing I heard (and probably used) positive anymore long before I noticed its use.

Well, today I came across yet another token of the word “showrunner,” which I feel like I hear (or read) surprisingly frequently as of late (e.g., today’s example here). I also feel like the first time I ever heard it was sometime within the last year or two.

Since the plain usage of “showrunner” is simple to investigate (i.e., it doesn’t require filtering out complicated negative vs. positive contexts the way an investigation of positive anymore would), I decided to do like language log teaches us to do and make use of readily available corpora – google ngrams and coca – to get a more objective measure of the word’s usage. Here’s the google ngram plot for the time period from 1980 to 2008:

Similarly, a simple search of coca produces 11 instances, none before 2000, the most recent in 2009.

Not surprisingly, my intuition was wrong. I would have guessed that the earliest examples would be from 2008 or later, but the upswing in usage seems to have been fully upswung by the mid 2000s.

Chalk one up for the recency illusion and knuckle-headed corpus analysis, I guess. And chalk one down for even more knuckle-headed usage intuition.

All up- and down-chalking aside, there’s an interesting tension between, on the one hand, the fact that the word is usefully specific and so allows people to refer to a culturally relevant occupation and, on the other, it makes the user sound (to me) like their trying really hard to be a TV insider.

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2 Responses to A recency illusion

  1. I have the recency illusion about “nosh,” a word I really hate for no reason. I feel like I learned it in the past year, and yet the authoritative google ngram search tells me it’s been popular since at least the 70s, with maybe a minor upswing starting in the late 90s.

  2. Nate Johnson says:

    Hey that ngram viewer is interesting. I hadn’t seen that tool before. Here’s a phrase that I my intuition was telling me is recent: “I know. Right?”. The ngram results for “i know right” seem to support my recency illusion. That might make it a confirmed recentism.


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