In a previous post, I wrote about my searches on Google’s ngram viewer on the relative historical use of the terms “chink” and “Chink.” Ngram viewer’s dataset only goes to 2008/9, but another Google web tool, trends, tracks the text of web searches (at Google, obviously) since 2004 – yes, trends is a text search of text searches, so for those folks who love self-referentiality, it is in effect a meta-search engine. Since they draw on different data, actual print usage versus web search text, the two tools aren’t directly comparable. Nevertheless, a quick check on Google trends for the term “chink” was interesting.
[Classes ended yesterday so I’m in the process of updating and publishing posts I wrote this fall.]
In May, in the aftermath of the controversy over the use of the phrase “chink in the armor” as a ESPN headline for an article about Jeremy Lin, I wrote a post about the term “chink” and its historical use and origin. This fall I’ve been thinking about the digital humanities and data visualization for my courses and I remembered Google’s ngram viewer. It’s an online tool that draws on the digitalization of books and other print materials that are the basis for Google Books. It allows you to can chart the frequency with which a word (or words) occurs in that database. Because the database includes historical works, in effect the ngram viewer charts the historical use of words in print. I decided to use it to check the arguments I made in my previous post.
The first time someone directed the word “chink” at me, I had a visceral and almost violent reaction to it. Excited to have arrived for my freshman year of college, I took the “T” to visit Boston for the first time and having just exited the Green line station on the Boston Common, a young woman approached me to give me a leaflet. I wasn’t interested, so I said “no thank you” and continued walking when I heard her call after me, “f**king chink.” Without thinking, I turned around wanting to yell something equally offensive in response and raised my hand back wanting to slap her for the offense. Fortunately, I had walked a few paces and the distance allowed me enough time to realize and reconsider what I was about to do. I turned around again and walked away, mad as hell, fuming in frustration, but also determined not to let the situation, rather than my considered intentions, get the best of me.
I’ve recalled the incident many times since, most recently during the brouhaha in February over ESPN’s brief and temporary use of the phrase, “chink in the armor,” in a headline about Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks basketball player. While I thought its use was inappropriate and ill-considered, I also found much of the reaction to the headline unnecessarily uninformed and hyperbolic, and more importantly, misdirected.