Posted by Jay Livingston
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been wealthy, and believe me, wealthy is better.”
It’s not exactly what Sophie Tucker said. But it does seem to me that although rich is better than poor, the word carries overtones of greed and selfishness — the unapologetic 19th century plutocrat blowing his cigar smoke in your face. Forbes still lays it on the line – “The 400 Richest People in America” – possibly because Wealthiest is to cumbersome for a magazine cover. But rich has been steadily going out of fashion. Here is the nGram for rich and wealthy since 1850.
A few months ago I had a post called “Blockheads” about the effects of raising income taxes on the rich. In a Times article, Greg Mankiw claimed that the increase from 36% to 39% would deter rich people from their productive work. I disagreed, and I used Mankiw himself – “a rich economist” – and his unpaid blogging (and underpaid Times writing) as an example. Rich was the word I used. I was trying to be blunt about the amounts of money rich people had and got; I wanted to avoid euphemism. After all, in “Fiddler” Tevye does not sing, “If I were a wealthy individual, Ya da deedle deedle. . .”
Had I been too negative, too snarky? Not long after, I got a message from Liquida.com alerting me to their “Sentiment Analysis.” I clicked and discovered that the overall mood of the post was “Very Good!” mostly because I’d used the word rich.
Use poor a few times in a post, and Liquida will rate the mood as “Very Bad.” Needless to say, my post on the quarterback sneak had a “Very Bad” sentiment, but surprisingly, the recent post on Death Panels rated a “Good” sentiment. Some text analysis programs are better than others.
In any case, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to uplift the overall mood of this blog, to reduce the level of snark and to be and nicer even when offering criticism. But I don’t think I’m going to rely on Liquida to help me.