Academic terms on the rise in Google-land

Photo by Chase Carter from Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Chase Carter from Flickr Creative Commons

Recent controversies in the media have brought terms familiar in academia to the popular arena. If that means academics are getting their work out there, that’s great. But the downside is confusing over how and when to apply them. Here’s a tiny crash course on some of these rising terms. We use Google Trends to show the trend for each term in the (English-speaking) world’s search behavior. Each graph is separately scaled, so the search volume is not comparable across figures. For details or to try your own terms, follow the Google links after each figure. And feel free to leave your own media-featured terms and their definitions in the comments. (One interesting pattern to note is the terms that peak around November and April — which probably means the search traffic reflects undergraduate term-paper topics.)

Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation occurs when members of a dominant social group adopt the cultural symbols, behavior, or identity of a subordinate group. Those who engage in cultural appropriation tend to be outsiders to the culture they imitate, having limited contact with members of the group. Typically this involves the adoption of a subordinate culture’s music, language, art, style of dress or other aspects of appearance. Cultural appropriation is distinct from assimilation, which is the process of cultural exchange resulting in social groups becoming more similar. Cultural appropriation may also be referred to as cultural misappropriation. An example is the use of Native Americans or their cultural symbols as sports teams logos. Follow-up article: Redskins name change demanded at Smithsonian forum

Rape culture

Rape culture occurs when rape is normalized or trivialized as the result of sexist cultural attitudes. Rape culture stems from cultural emphasis on traditional gender roles that treat women as sexual objects without agency. Rape culture includes a range of behavior and imagery such as slut-shaming, blaming the victim, and rape jokes. Among its various problematic pieces, “Blurred Lines” features a chorus with the words, “I know you want it,” and assumptions that a woman’s gestures or being near a man are suggestive enough of sexual desire to completely forgo consent: “The way you grab me — must wanna get nasty”, “That man is not your mate and that’s why I’m gon’ take you.”

Follow-up article: Rape culture roundup

Victim blaming

Victim-blaming occurs when the person harmed during a crime, accident, or other harmful event is blamed for the offense. Blaming the victim justifies the subordination of a social group by holding them responsible for their disadvantage. Example: When nude images of several, mostly female, public figures emerged online, many people, including male celebrities, placed the blame on the women themselves for taking the pictures at all, despite the fact that these pictures were obtained and distributed without their permission. Follow-up article:  Who’s to blame for celebrity phone-hacking?


An individual is cisgender when their gender identification aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. This term acknowledges the existence of gender identities outside of the traditional male-female binary.

Follow-up article: What does “cis” mean?


Transgender refers to people whose gender identity differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. (Transgender does not refer to an individual’s sexual orientation, and is also not to be confused with transsexual.) Example: Laverne Cox, who portrays Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, became the first openly transwoman on the cover of Time Magazine in June of 2014. Follow-up article: What does “transgender” mean?

White Privilege

White privilege refers to the unearned advantages and power White have in our society, in contrast to non-Whites. It’s not a new concept, but Peggy McIntosh described it in the classic afticle, “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.” For examples, browse #CrimingWhileWhite on Twitter or check out this Buzzfeed article.

Follow-up article: White privilege, explained in one simple comic


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