What’s in a name?

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The Developing World, Third World, Global South...why so many names for the same part of the world?

These terms were all coined to differentiate economically poorer countries from the smaller number of richer countries known collectively as the First World, developed countries, or the North.

The Third World tag originally meant a non-aligned, third way of doing things, an alternative to the Cold War division of Western capitalism (the First World) and East Bloc communism (the Second World). But in the New World Order that emerged, the promise of another way grew distant, and the term took on a negative connotation, as in third class.

Many people started referring to the developing world or developing countries. But you could argue that some nations are no better off after decades of “development.” And what exactly does “developing” mean? Who defines progress?

So development practitioners then began to talk of a Global North and South. While geographically problematic – for example, the nations of Australia and New Zealand are considered part of the conceptual North, but are located in the actual South – it does convey the idea of economic difference.

The phrases 'Majority World' and 'Two-Thirds World' have been suggested, since the people of the Third World represent around two-thirds of the globe's population. But these names never caught on.

While acknowledging that it is simplistic to slap one label on so many distinct countries – and distinct histories and realities – Cuso International primarily uses the term “developing countries” in its dialogue on international development.