Cambridge linguistics study confirms the growing commercialism of Christmas

Santa, sales, shopping and spending all feature in top Christmas words

This year’s Black Friday is set to be the biggest yet and as shoppers gear up for the busiest shopping day of the year, a linguistics study from Cambridge University Press reveals that the way we talk about Christmas is also becoming increasingly materialistic.

The researchers have reviewed more than 2 billion words from their English Language Corpus and compared the language we use about Christmas today with data collected in the 1990s finding that the language we use demonstrates an increasingly commercial attitude to Christmas.

In particular, the research indicated that words associated with consumerism have risen considerably; the words sales, spend, shopping and retailers were amongst the most highly associated with Christmas in the data collected this decade.

The 1990s data, by contrast, seems more wholesome, with the word Christmas likely to be associated with pantomimes, pudding, cracker and carols.

The study also identifies that excess is on our minds today in more ways than one. The words party, goodies, bash, frolics and knees-up were also all on the rise in the more recent data… and we’re paying the price. Since the 1990s, hangover has become one of the 50 top words commonly associated with Christmas.

Laura Grimes, Language Researcher at Cambridge University Press said: “With wall-to-wall advertising from retailers and increasing mentions in the media, we would expect to see a rise in the frequency of materialistic words in the recent data.

“What is surprising is how prominent the influx of these words has been and how they now account for such a significant proportion of the words used in association with Christmas. If that appears a depressing finding, we can take heart from the fact that Father Christmas, tree, cards and decorations remain amongst the most common language associations with the holiday season.”

The Cambridge festive study is still on-going with the team continuing to gather more data in the run up to Christmas. The aim of this research is to identify the countries where people are most and least excited about the festive season and how our moods change throughout the holidays. A visual representation of the real-time data from social media can be found here: www.seasonsgreetings.cambridge.org

Notes to editors
For more information, interviews or comment, please contact Louisa Ackermann at press@cambridge.org.

About the Cambridge English Corpus

The Cambridge English Corpus helps to understand more about the English language, and how people use it when they speak and when they write. It is a multi-billion word collection of written and spoken English. It includes the Cambridge Learner Corpus, a unique bank of exam candidate papers. Press authors study the Corpus to see how English is really used, and to identify typical learner mistakes. This means that Cambridge materials help students to avoid mistakes, and they can be confident the language taught is useful, natural and fully up-to-date.

About Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University's mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

Its extensive peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise 50,000 titles covering academic research and professional development, as well as school-level education and English language teaching.

Playing a leading role in today's international marketplace, Cambridge University Press has more than 50 offices around the globe, and it distributes its products to nearly every country in the world. For further information, go to www.cambridge.org

About Us

Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. We further the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Our peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise over 50,000 titles covering academic research, professional development, over 300 research journals, school-level education, English language teaching and Bible publishing. This list is growing at a rate of over 4,000 ISBNs every year and spans subjects from aesthetics through to zoology, with authors ranging from Shakespeare to English language teaching author, Ray Murphy. We are committed to supporting innovation in learning and teaching and we publish without boundaries, ensuring our resources are accessible across the globe, in print, online and other digital formats. We take pride in supporting community programmes across the globe. Staff are encouraged to offer practical help, advice and funding to nurture vital charitable, educational and voluntary partnerships. Playing a leading role in today’s global market place, we have over 50 offices around the globe, and distribute our products to nearly every country in the world. We publish 50,000 authors based in over 100 different countries.

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Quotes

With wall-to-wall advertising from retailers and increasing mentions in the media, we would expect to see a rise in the frequency of materialistic words in the recent data. What is surprising is how prominent the influx of these words has been and how they now account for such a significant proportion of the words used in association with Christmas. If that appears a depressing finding, we can take heart from the fact that Father Christmas, tree, cards and decorations remain amongst the most common language associations with the holiday season.
Laura Grimes, Language Researcher at Cambridge University Press