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Why Language About Race Changes Over Time03:23Download

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Note: This segment contains language that most people will find offensive.

Some people call it "political correctness." Harvard linguist Steven Pinker wryly calls it the "euphemism treadmill." Whatever you call it, you can’t avoid it: the words we use for race and ethnicity — and whether they’re acceptable in polite company — change over time.

What was standard a few decades ago may be wildly offensive today. Gene Demby, lead blogger for NPR’s Code Switch, tells us why it is that the words under the "race" category on the U.S. Census have been different every single census since 1790.

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This segment aired on November 10, 2014.

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