Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Sep 30 01:34:32 UTC 2011

The OED has these going back to the end of c.18 as theological terms, and that's pretty much the only way they're used (occasionally metaphorically, but with real demons in the picture) until the mid-1980's, when they became dramatically more common in a looser political or social meaning of "portray as evil" or some such. Google's ngram viewer has them increasing 12-fold between 1980 and 2000 -- see -- and in the NYT the number of hits went from 11 in 1980-84 to  131 in 1990-94 to 283  in 2000-04. But no single trigger seems to jump out here -- by the mid-1980s it was being used of Willie Horton, Israel, South Africa's attitude toward the DNC, etc. Yet it feels like the kind of word that emerges in some salient context -- not like 'roil', say, which popped at about the same time for no good reason. 


Geoffrey Nunberg
School of Information
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley CA 94720
ph. 510-643-3894
nunberg at

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