‘Ought’ vs. ‘Need’: “Mad Men” and Cultural Shifts Represented by Changing Language

How much has language usage in America changed since, say, the 1960s? Sure, there’s the inclusion of various colloquial terms, a relaxing of grammer, and everyone’s least favorite lexical evolution, textspeak, but what about the more fundamental word usage? An Atlantic article on the historical inaccuracies of word usage in the television show Mad Men, set in the ’60s, piqued my interest by describing a fairly dramatic shift from the occurrence in media (TV, movies, books) of the phrase “I need to” over the phrase “I ought to,” which reigned supreme before the cultural revolutions of the ’60s.

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Recently perused articles

  • In Democracy Journal, a review of Jared Diamond’s (of Guns, Germs, and Steel fame) new book, The World Until Yesterday. The article explores how we can learn from traditional societies, and preserve cultural diversity and our environment.
  • On Brain Pickings, an article on the grim state of employment satisfaction, citing that “Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs.” It explores the idea of satisfying work. This is an interesting issue given that prior to the 20th century there wasn’t a whole lot of choice involved in what jobs people held, as one was more or less born into their line of work correlating with class. Especially since the emphasis on personal growth and leisure time since the West’s cultural revolution in the 1960s and onward, finding happy and fulfilling work is more of a concern — for myself included. Whether even the majority of people can live up to this goal is another matter altogether.

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