On “small people”

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from a Language Log perspective:

When Carl-Henric Svanberg raised such a fuss yesterday by explaining that at BP “we care about the small people”, my first reaction was that he should have known better than to bring up the whole size thing, or for that matter the whole caring thing. But my second reaction was to wonder about contemporary American expressions for ordinary people.

The most obvious phrase, I think, is “ordinary people”. It’s roughly 25 times more common than “small people” in terms of raw frequency (1475 hits vs. 60 hits in the COCA corpus), and a majority of the instances of “small people” are literal references to people’s height, or other irrelevant categories: “Small people can bend easier, with less low-back pain”; “I had a little Lilliputian hallucination. I saw very small people, pink people, before a migraine”; “Ellen, as a petite person herself, felt strongly that small people should avoid perkiness at all costs”.

There’s more…

(H/t Matt Yglesias)

One thought on “On “small people”

  1. rachel June 18, 2010 / 9:14 am

    As a lover of words and a lover of people, I, too, cringed (nay, snorted and guffawed!) when I first saw those words on the screen. Small people, indeed! The meek shall inherit the earth – whatever’s left of it, that is…

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