ETHNICITY seems to be a new term. In the sense in which we use it-the character or quality of an ethnic group-it does not appear in the 1933 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and only makes its appearance in the 1972 Supplement, where the first usage recorded is that of David Riesman in 1953. It is included in Webster’s Third New International, 1961, but did not find its way into the Random House Dictionary of the English Language of 1966, nor the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1969. It did, however, make the 1973 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, where it is defined as: “1. The condition of belonging to a particular ethnic group; 2. Ethnic pride.” One senses a term still on the move. The first of these two definitions fits well with our own: an objective condition. The second, however, is decidedly subjective: “pride.” How very different from an old meaning, “obs. rare” as the OED has it, “heathendom: heathen superstition.” At the very least, a change of relative status is going on here, and a shift in the general understanding of ethnic groups. Where they were formerly seen as survivals from an earlier age, to be treated variously with toleration, annoyance, or mild celebration, there is now a growing sense that they may be forms of social life that are capable of renewing and transforming themselves.
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