Charles Kurzman, a Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina, recently decided to test the cosmopolitan attitudes of Americans today by examining the use of foreign words and place names in the New York Times crossword puzzles since its inception in February 1942. Working through the 2,092,375 pairs of clues and answers, the results show that the puzzles are significantly less international than they used to be.
"The results are imperfect, since the puzzles can be tricky and there is a lot of overlap between English and foreign words. But the broad trend is clear. The puzzle today uses one-third fewer non-English clues and answers than it did at its peak in 1966, and makes two-thirds fewer international references than its peak in 1943. For many years, the puzzle expected educated Americans to know the German word for “with” (mit) and the Latin word for “man” (vir), for example. These words have all but disappeared from the puzzle.
While more than 15 percent of the clues included international references in the puzzle's first four years, as compared to about 5 percent today, the Times's current puzzle editor, Will Shortz, says it has fluctuated with each new editor. The report certainly doesn't bring about any definite conclusions in regards to Americans' worldly reality, but it does offer an intriguing look at the effects of globalization on language.
Head over to the New York Times to read the full report.