Another Ngram Faceoff, this time between profit (red) and safety (blue) in American English between 1790 and 2010. (Click the chart to get a larger version.)

Granted, you can’t put too much emphasis on the scientific bona fides of the Ngram analysis, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg points out here, but here are some touchpoints in the history of safety you might find interesting:

1790: First U.S. patent issued.
1850: First accident insurance policy issued in the United States.
1911: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
1970: Passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
1972: Passage of the Consumers Product Safety Act (CPSA).

Safety fought a hard battle from 1900 to 1970, but since then things have been looking up. Or perhaps there’s an alternative explanation: Maybe America has simply become a nation of wusses.

4 Responses to “Ngram Faceoff: Profit and safety”

  1. pablo roux says:

    Yet, the statistical records shows continuing progress in aviation indices of safety between 1920 and 1970. Perhaps, as Hoover wrote, “It is interesting to note that this is the only industry that favors having itself regulated by government”

  2. Marcia Lindberg says:

    My husband is “Safety Sam” for the drywall delivery company he works for, and believes completely in keeping his men safe and knows more about the dangers/insurance issues than anyone… I’m wondering, however, as he deals with OSHA constantly (with rules that might be unnecessary and costly) to what extent the government is willing to listen/partner with people like my husband in order to form efficient and meaningful policies to reduce resource and monetary waste???? Seems like he’s always dealing with government officials who are more interested in taxing him than keeping people safe. And….at what point does “safety” interfere with innovation?….If we had had the FAA 100 years ago we’d still be walking or taking trains!!! and still be crossing the Atlantic in ships.

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