A Little Etymology: Third World

“Like the third estate, the Third World has nothing, and wants to be something,”

 ~1952 Alfred Sauvy, coiner of the term Third World. 

I’ve been thinking about how “Third World” sounds so derogatory. What does that mean? Third in relation to what? And I never hear the term “Second World,” so what does that mean? Actually, I never hear “First World” either. Perhaps because it can be assumed that all talk is about the First World unless it is identified that the talk is about the Third World (or that Second World that I never hear about)? Well. I finally took a minute to review what my friends at wiki have to say about it:

The term arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World).

So, you are either a good guy or a bad guy, or a nation to be conquered, colonized and absorbed into the good guys or the bad guys.

More wiki:

This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. Although the term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world, this usage is widely disparaged since the term no longer holds any verifiable meaning after the fall of the Soviet Union deprecated the terms First World and Second World.

Ah. Outdated, antiquated, derogatory or “not pc” as some may say. What are we calling these nations now?

From Apropedia: Majority world

The majority world (sometimes capitalized as Majority World) is a term used in preference to the largely inaccurate, out-of-date and/or non-descriptive terms developing countries, third world and the “South”. In the early nineties, Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam [1]began advocating for a new expression “majority world” to represent what has formerly been known as the “Third World.” The term highlights the fact that these countries are indeed the majority of humankind. It also brings to sharp attention the anomaly that the Group of 8 countries—whose decisions affect majority of the world’s peoples—represent a tiny fraction of humankind.

Majority world defines the community in terms of what it is, rather than what it lacks.

Read more

Actually, I can’t think of a time when I have used the term third world, so I kind of doubt that I would even use majority world. I just wanted to know what that was all about. And now you do too 😀

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