Around the World in Weighty Phrases

“Readers from across the globe,” declares the editor of Reed, “alerted us to a carnival of errors in the last magazine.” 

U.S. spies have been “conducting surveillance in the online games played by millions of people across the globe”—thus were my eyes assaulted by a New York Times story one morning. Another headline read, “A Moment of Unity as the Tributes Flow from Across the World”—modified, mercifully, to “Around the World” in the Times online edition.

Don’t know much about geography . . . Many people, perhaps even a majority, believe that the earth is round. The last time I used such a medieval phrase was as a young child, and I was quickly corrected by my mother. How is it that the flat-earth society is suddenly resurgent? Curious, I did a little research. How often in the past, I wondered, were the phrases “across the world” and “across the globe” used in the Times (as an indicator of the media in general), as opposed to the “around” versions.

Using the Times online search facility, I came up with some illuminating results: For most of the 20th century, the annual frequency of “across” rested comfortably in the 1% to 5% range, with an occasional anomalous year. An exception was the World War II period, when there was a spike to nearly 10%, but that increase tapered off by midcentury. Stories about Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and Howard Hughes’ flight around the globe did not skew the results. On the other hand, reviews of the 1930 movie Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Johnson produced a visible blip in the data. Then, suddenly and inauspiciously, with the inauguration of George Bush the Lesser, the rate of “across” leaped to the double digits, peaking above 30% for Bush’s two final years. As suddenly as Bush was out of office, the rate dropped to 16%, and as the Obama years progressed, into the single digits, though the damage seems to have been done, and we’re still hovering around 9%.

—Roger Lippman ’69

Seattle, Washington

Editor's Note: Although it is deeply disheartening to be thus associated with the George W Bush adminstration, I will take this as a round to bear.