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societies, classes, families—each and all claim for themselves their own
peculiar, real, or imaginary excellences. This is a common human
foible, but there are times and circumstances when it may become
an epidemic and devastating disease.
The Meaning of "Race"
The term "race" is freely employed in many kinds of literature,
but investigation of the use of the word soon reveals that no exact
meaning can be attached to it. The word "race" is of Hebrew or
Arabic origin, and entered the Western languages late. It was origin-
ally used to denote descendants of a single sire, especially of animals.
Later in English and French it became applied to human beings, as
in the phrase "the race of Abraham" in Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1570
edition, the first occurrence in this sense in English) or in a spiritual
sense,—e.g. the "race of Satan" in Milton's Paradise Lost. The word
was not employed in the Authorized Version of the Bible, where it is
represented by the words "seed" or "generation."
The word " race" soon acquired a vagueness that it has never since
lost. This vagueness has given the word a special popularity with a
group of writers who deal with scientific themes, though they them-
selves are without adequate scientific equipment. From such writers
it has descended to the literature of more violent nationalism.
It is instructive to look up the word race in a good dictionary. The
vagueness of its usage will at once become apparent. The Concise
Oxford Dictionary defines "race" in general as:
"Group of persons or animals or plants connected by common
descent, posterity of (person), house, family, tribe or nation re-
garded as of common stock, distinct ethnical stock (the Caucasian,
Mongolian, &c., r.), genus or species or breed or variety of animals
or plants, any great division of living creatures (the human, feathered,
four-footed, finny, &c., r.); descent, kindred (of noble, Oriental, &c.,
r.; separate in language & r.;) class of persons &c. with some
common feature (the r. of poets, dandies, &c.)."
A word is often none the worse for being inexact in its usage; many
words indeed are valuable for this very reason. But it is necessary,
in dealing with scientific subjects, to distinguish carefully between the
terms that we use in an exact sense and those which are valuable for
their very vagueness. The word "race," if it is to be used at all,
should find its place in the latter class.
It has frequently been asserted that "race" is of the essence of
nationality, and sometimes "race" and "nation" have been used as