[Ads-l] "the land of opportunity"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 14 00:06:01 UTC 2015

I haven't done a comprehensive search, but ProQuest shows "this land of opportunity" occurring in Home Journal, Nov. 29, 1851, page 48.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Geoffrey Nunberg [nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU]
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2015 2:21 PM
Subject: "the land of opportunity"

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.” https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__bit.ly_1FVyrJD&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=sRkhHMQo6W5Ird1lkQFqb23bCfSHAR2XjUSUG53db5M&m=eYkOOS60G7DzLV4t_MN_jZ7RD6EaxI05ZacklWunwFA&s=-qWs4Cl_EJj_vsJ3JDP4WMlL4z9pZoV5Zz-p8XERPL4&e=  <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__bit.ly_1FVyrJD&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=sRkhHMQo6W5Ird1lkQFqb23bCfSHAR2XjUSUG53db5M&m=eYkOOS60G7DzLV4t_MN_jZ7RD6EaxI05ZacklWunwFA&s=-qWs4Cl_EJj_vsJ3JDP4WMlL4z9pZoV5Zz-p8XERPL4&e= >  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.

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