While checking with Google Books the usage of the expressions positive/negative stance on (something) I realized that they literally took off from the early 60s while their usage was quite rare before. And the term stance used also in other contexts appears to have had the same usage trend.

@JohnLawler suggests that stance is another term for stand, and actually Google Books reveals a correspondence between the negative/positive expressions. In other words from about the early 60s ”positive/negative stand on” usage has started to decrease while “negative/positive stance” usage increased. It appears that, for some reason, stance was preferred to stand.

Can anybody suggest why “stance” has such an increase of popularity from those years? Was it used by some reputable journalist or politician who made its fortune?

  • 1
    Also note that the spike in usage in BrE lagged AmE by around a year. My guess (although I cannot prove it) is that it had a little something to do with the social issues in the US at that time i.e. Vietnam, civil rights legislation, etc. Oct 5, 2020 at 19:27
  • 2
    Stance is just a variant of stand (n), with the same metaphorical meaning. It would be interesting to compare the use of stance during that period with stand in similar contexts: take a stand on vs take a stance on. There might well be tradeoff if there was a change in one. Oct 5, 2020 at 19:57
  • 2
    @JohnLawler - the is actually an apparent correspondence between stand vs stance in the positive/negative expressions. It appears there was a switch between the two terms to some extent..why? books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Gio
    Oct 5, 2020 at 20:04
  • 1
    In the US, I'd say stand and stance have quite different connotations. The kids doing a sit-in in the dean's office were taking a stance. The fellows at the Alamo were taking a stand. I'm not sure stand is available unless there's a risk of being shot. Blame it on Custer, I guess.
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 5, 2020 at 20:26
  • @PhilSweet From what I recall of the times, the term "last stand" was re-purposed in the in the 60s in the form of "Custard's Last Stand" for road-side soft ice-cream drive-ins... Oct 5, 2020 at 20:50

1 Answer 1


I tend to agree with Phil Sweet in his comment that there is a nuance between take a stand - to mount a determined resistance, and take a stance -to take a position accompanied by various degrees of a defensive or aggressive attitude.



Etymology: < French stance (now only in the sense ‘stanza’: see 4), < Italian stanza station, stopping place, room, etc.: see stanza n.(Show Less) 1.a. A standing-place, station, position.

1532 E. Boner in State Papers Henry VIII (1849) VII. 396 Beyng at a stance, where oon way turneth to the Popes lodging, and the other to the Emperours, the Pope departed from the Emperour.

1862 H. Beveridge Comprehensive Hist. India II. iv. iv. 143 One chapter is devoted to..stances for deities.

This then broadly remained the case until the late 19th century

1 d. In Golf and other games: The position of the player's feet in playing a stroke. Also transferred, the position of the player's body in readiness or in playing a stroke. Similarly gen., a standing attitude or way of positioning.

1897 Outing 30 426/1 The stance, the grip, the swing, that together make up, what they call a good style.

In its turn "stance" then took on the meaning of

e. figurative. An attitude adopted in relation to a particular object of contemplation; a policy, ‘posture’.

1960 Amer. Speech 35 215 An ‘unlinguistic’ stance is evidenced in the view that some variants embody language ‘corruption’.

1977 J. I. M. Stewart Madonna of Astrolabe xx. 277 Moderate regret and underlying unconcern established itself as our public stance.

The 1960 quote above is the first recorded use of "stance" in this sense.

Stand(n.) is somewhat older:

II. Place of standing.

11.a. A place of standing, position, station; also in phr. to take one's stand, poet. to take stand.

a1300 Cursor Mundi 1694 Siþen efter alþernest hand þe meke beistes sal haue þair stand.

1827 Scott Surgeon's Daughter in Chron. Canongate 1st Ser. II. iv. 114 He saw from his lofty stand all the dumb show of gallantry.

The difference is that the figurative use entered the language in the 16th century:

b. fig.

1595 S. Daniel First Fowre Bks. Ciuile Warres iii. cxxv. sig. S2 Nay father since your fortune did attaine So hye a stand: I meane not to descend, Replyes the Prince.

1874 J. R. Green Short Hist. Eng. People vii. §4. 375 He [Philip] was preparing..to take a new political stand as the patron of Catholicism throughout the world.

It therefore seems that the replacement of stand with stance occurred with the popularisation of golf in the late 50s/early 60s.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.