Tracking shifts in word usage

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jan 30, 2011.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    A new internet tool, Google N-Grams, can be used to trace shifts in the usage of words and names. You type in two words, and it measures their frequency of occurrence in the millions of English-language books that Google has digitized, and graphs them for comparison over time. Examples from today's Washington Post:
    • Instances of "television" passed "Bible" in 1968.
    • In that same year, "orgasm" passed "chastity."
    • "Astrology passed "phrenology" in 1843.
    • "Surgery" passed "leeches" in 1863.
    • "Sex" passed "romance" in 1900.
    • "Hot dog" passed "frankfurter" in 1917.
    • "Hitler" passed "Satan" in 1933.
    • "Car" passed "horse" in 1940.
    • "Panties" passed "bloomers" in 1950. This surprised me since in the early 1950s I never heard anyone call them "bloomers."
    • "Beer" passed "liquor" in 1956.
    • "Black activist" passed "credit to his race" in 1966. Most of you probably never heard that patronizing phrase. I, unfortunately, did.
    • "Having sex" passed "going steady" in 1973.
    • "Pants" did not pass "trousers" until 1975. Another surprise. I don't think I've ever uttered or written the word "trousers."
    • "Romaine lettuce" passed "iceberg lettuce" in 1978.
    • "Harry Potter" passed "Huckleberry Finn" in 2002.
    • "Wireless" had a huge peak in 1919, but it came back with an even larger one in 2003.
    • "God" beats out all other proper names, including "Christ," "Mohammad" and "Shakespeare." I assume this includes all the trendy different anglicizations of Mohammed/Muhammad, etc., over the decades.
    • The N-word (which the article did not print and neither will I, to avoid having SciForums identified as an evil website and blocked out by corporate, educational, and foreign national filters) peaked in 1970. The euphemism "the n-word" peaked in 2002, but the word itself continues to be in greater use than the phrase.
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  3. dbnp48 Q.E.D. Registered Senior Member

    I've used it. If you're interested in words, it's a fascinating tool.
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  5. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member

    Fraggle, this is very cool.

    • "Atomic" popular 1940s through 1960s; "nuclear" popular 1950s onward.
    • "Astronomy" always outdid "astrology", which shows a blip in the 1920s.
    • "Venus" has a significant spike around 1895–1905.
    • "Jupiter" has ~20-year recurring spikes through the 1700s into the early 1800s.
    • "Biochemistry" grew steadily from about 1900 to a peak in 1980, when "biotechnology" skyrocketed.
    • "xyzzy" began in 1975!

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    • "Eugenics" huge from 1900s through 1940s, and again from 1990s onwards.
    • "Abortion" popular from 1965 onwards, peaked 1995, still strong.
    • "Nazi" popular circa WW2 (of course), then recurred 1960-1990 (2nd generation interest, protests, etc?).
    • "Jihad" rumbling around for 100+ years, but began ramping the end of WW2.
    • Huh!! "Wall Street" shows increasing 20-year cycles over 100+ years??
    • "etc" surpassed "&c" in 1880.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2011
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