Condemner or Condemned

13 Oct

If you ever visit IH Dubai in the afternoon, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble into a round of ‘Guess that Collocation’.  Someone shouts out a random word, everyone guesses the most common collocation, and then we check the COCA or BNC corpus.  What can I say, we really know how to party.

Anyways, one day someone picked condemn. I think the best guess was violence which came in at about #5, but what was really surprising came a little further down the list: homosexual at #23 and homosexuality at #35.  So, when it came time to write a paper for the lexis module of my MSc, I decided to do a little more investigating.  I won’t bore you with research methods or tables of corpus search results[1], but here are a few trends that I found interesting:


PolFinger wagitics

Politicians love to condemn.  Condemn other parties, condemn other governments, condemn the terrorists – if someone/something needs condemning, they’re the ones to turn to.  And if it’s not them condemning, it’s the media reporting the politicians.  Just take a look at some of the top collocates:

–          War: attack, bombing, violence, terrorism

–          Politics: resolution, motion, Clinton, government

–          Other nations: Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq



Of course, if you really want some good ol’ fashioned moral judgment, nothing beats religion.  In fact, the two sub-genres where condemn occurred most frequently were religious magazines for the US and sermons for the UK.  Not surprisingly, there were a number of obvious religious collocates, including church, bible, and cleric to the left of the verb, and homosexuality and suicide to the immediate right.  What I found most fascinating was that these common collocates only occurred in the COCA corpus and not in the BNC.  This raises a number of questions:

Do Americans condemn more for religious reasons than the British?

Do American politicians incorporate more religion into their political platforms?  If so, is it mostly the right wing?

Does the American media merely report this or do they actively condemn as well?

Is the anti-gay movement really that strong in the US or is it just rhetoric from both sides on the issue of homosexuality?

Although I try to put forward my own hypotheses in my paper, I think I’ll just leave the questions here for others to mull over.  Interestingly as well, even the Webster dictionary (US) includes the term ‘moral judgment’ in its primary definition while Collins (UK) only talks about disapproval and censure.


Condemner or Condemned

As seen, whether the collocate search is for words to the left or right of the Condemn makes a huge impact on the results.  On the left, we can see agents who are doing the condemning, typically depersonalized entities, the law, the government, the bible, the UN, etc.  It seems that usually when someone wants to condemn somebody else, it’s better to hide behind the moral weight of a faceless powerful force.  Even when this isn’t the case, the passive voice is also often used – apparently personally condemning is distasteful!


Overall, I have to admit – I didn’t actually enjoy doing corpus research and may leave this particular field to other more qualified and enthusiastic people.  What I do find fascinating are the trends that emerge from this kind of work and I’ll definitely be continuing to read others’ papers.  If you come across anything similar, please do let me know and post a link.

[1] If anyone has a perverse desire to see the whole paper, just send me a private message.


8 Responses to “Condemner or Condemned”

  1. eflnotes October 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm #


    i like the sound of that game guess that collocation 🙂

    for a quick and rich result i like to use; e.g. for condemn it gives some interesting meaning clusters – censure, convict, rebuke


    • Ben Naismith October 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Thanks for the website recommendation – just started looking at it and really helpful. In my paper I actually had a section comparing it to synonyms (most common according to Collins). Turns out that ‘Denounce’ and ‘Criticize’ are also used in political contexts, but not religious, whereas ‘Damn’ is for religious but not political. ‘Condemn’ can almost be seen as a combination, bringing the power of religious moral judgment to political affairs.

  2. Leo October 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Interesting results. And working over at IH Dubai sounds like a lot of fun too 🙂
    Shame you didn’t become enthused about corpus research though

    • Ben Naismith October 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Still enthused about corpus research, just not my own – really enjoyed your latest post about collocation and (possible) L1 interference.

  3. Scott Thornbury October 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Ben, nice work! Just a thought – the religious bias you observe in COCA may have something to do with the texts that comprise it, which may in turn have something to do with it being situated in Utah. (I’ve also preponderance of faith-based citations). I did a quick comparison of the frequency of the word ‘Mormon’ in the COCA compared to the BNC: an average of 4.73 occurrences per million in COCA, as opposed to 0.25 in BNC, i.e. nearly 20 times as many! Occurrences of the word ‘faith’ are one third more frequent in the COCA than they are in the BNC. Of course, this might simply point to the fact that the US is a more religious society overall.

    • Ben Naismith October 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Hi Scott, thanks for stopping by. I’ve also wondered about how much to attribute to it being BYU and how much to it just being American. In a very unscientific way I did look up individual examples and they didn’t seem to be particularly related to Utah or certain regions of the states. In fact, as you might expect, Fox news had the 7th highest ration of using ‘condemn’, but what was more surprising was that PBS, which is national and generally liberal, came in at #9.

      Backing up your guess that the US is more religious, surveys show that about 80-85% of Americans claim to be religious while as little as 33% claim to be religious in the UK (according to the Guardian). Even those Brits who say they are Christian often also say they are non-religious!

      If you’ve ever wondered why Mormonism has only really caught on in the US, I highly recommend this informative animated history:

  4. Jane Thomas October 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Me neither I don’t like corpora research. It’s too technical for me. The Guess that Collocation sounds like a cool game. I hope to try it with my students.I rarely hear or see the word comdemner. Condemned is the more common term that I use.

    • Ben Naismith October 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by Jane. I actually only included ‘Condemner’ in the title of the post to reference that it is about who is doing the condemning and who is being condemned – I guess that wasn’t made clear.

      In terms of the frequency of the form of the lemma, ‘condemned’ is by far the most frequent, probably due to how often it is used in news reports (past tense) and how often it is used in the passive voice.

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