Illegal aliens LCSH

On 1/6/2016 6:30 PM, K.R. Roberto wrote:
> Have you heard about the push to change the LC Subject Heading for > Illegal aliens to something less
> offensive?
> >
> There is going to be an ALA Council resolution at Midwinter that urges > LC to drop the term.

It is interesting that the primary purposes of subject headings appear to be changing. It always has been based on “user needs” and “literary warrant” ( but now it seems there is also this idea that the heading must not be “offensive” to anyone.

To get an idea of literary warrant of the terminology around this subject, I looked at Wikipedia and looked under the talk page of “Illegal immigration” where I found some terms. (

I then did a couple of quick and dirty searches in the Google n-gram tool (which searches words in books) and Google Trends (which searches words used in Google searches).

The terms I searched were: illegal aliens, undocumented workers, undocumented immigrants, unauthorized immigrants, illegal immigrants. I was surprised that the results in the two tools are rather similar.

In the Google n-gram result, we see that none of the terms were used until around 1940. At that time “Illegal immigrants” was used primarily until the period of the early 1970s to the early 1990s, when it was overtaken by “illegal aliens”. After that period “illegal immigrants” has again become clearly dominant. I don’t know when “Illegal aliens” became a subject heading, but if it happened during the 1970s to 1990s, this could be a reason for the heading. See:

In Google Trends we see that, except for a very short period in 2005-2006, there has been a clear predominance of “illegal immigrants” See:

In both cases, the other terms using “undocumented” or “unauthorized” are clearly less used.

Based on this very quick analysis of literary warrant, if there is a change, the change should be from “illegal aliens” to “illegal immigrants” but I think that people would find that just as offensive.

There was a discussion about this on Autocat awhile back (See and my own comment there. (

In any case, it seems clear to me from all of this, that the term “illegal aliens” does not offend everyone, as of course happens with racial or national epithets. It is even used in Wikipedia. As I said in my Autocat comment, “The age-old problem of choosing words that may … [offend others], may gradually disappear as linked data appears and everyone begins to worry more about adding the “correct” URI instead of the “correct” string of textual characters. I, for one, would be very happy about that. In my experience, I have discovered that almost no matter what I might say, even something like, “I love my cats” or “I like hot dogs” I have no doubt that [what] I said will make someone, somewhere, angry. Some people get offended by the very sight–or existence–of something else.”

I shall introduce as only one bit of evidence where people get angry for almost anything, a blog post where all I mentioned was that I knew someone and I liked her a lot ( Right now, it has 41 thumbs down. Don’t know why but there they are.

But it does show some of the problems of trying to create something that is “not offensive”. If something can offend no one, it is asking the impossible.

James Weinheimer
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