Why is this word disappearing?

As a kid in the 40s and 50s, the word swarthy was known to me. In recent years, I’ve found that a fair number of students (teenagers) know it. Yet I haven’t heard or seen it used in years. I bring it up with students b/c it has a German cognate many of them know: schwartz, “black”. But I don’t read it or hear it.

So I’m wondering how many of you have heard the word. Perhaps the younger among you don’t even know the word. I think it is interesting to chart the progress of this word into oblivion b/c it happens with frequency but seldom before our very ears.

The first thing that happened to it was a narrowing of meaning. In my vocabulary it was used only of complexion, a swarthy complexion, meaning a dark-skinned person but not Black in the sense African-Americans are dark-skinned. Italians, Arabs, and so on might be described as having a swarthy complexion. So being thus restricted made its use less frequent.

Next came a heightened sense of self-consciousness about skin color and its supposed irrelavance to a person’s character. People became cautious about any reference that might be termed racial. For that reason, I believe, the word isn’t used.

What do you find and what do you think?

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