[Ads-l] "the land of opportunity"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jun 11 18:21:55 UTC 2015


How far back does this go as a description of America? The earliest instance I’ve been able to find in Google Books is in a reference to an 1854 remark by Margaret Fuller that the problem of poverty was “a ragged insult to the land of opportunity.” http://bit.ly/1FVyrJD <http://bit.ly/1FVyrJD>  That suggests that the phrase was already a cliche by then. There’s nothing earlier than that in MOA

In any event, COHA, Proquest and Google ngrams all indicate that the phrase didn’t became common until the early decades of the 20th c.

Several earlier instances occur in commentaries on Psalm CXVI, which explicate the verse “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” by saying “the land of the living is a land of mercy, which we ought to be thankful for; it is a land of opportunity which we should improve” and go on to remark that Caanan is called the land of the living in Ezekial. But there doesn’t seem to be any direct Biblical origin for the phrase. 

Geoff
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