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Google Books Ngram Viewer: Best New Toy on the Internet

Google Labs recently provided the internet with a brand new toy: the Books Ngram Viewer. This “research tool” allows you to search the occurrences of words or phrases from over five million books, dating all the way back to the year 1500. Of course, Google created this graphing tool to help literary scholars view trends in literature. For example, here’s a graph of the occurrence of the word “men” versus the word “women” (click to enlarge):

Fascinating. The increase in books that mention women comes just after the 1960’s and women’s lib, as would be expected, and nowadays women are mentioned in literature more often than men. Let’s see what else we can discover…maybe something about language?

Ah, it seems clear that the exclamation “Zounds” was in high use in literature even in the 1800’s, but was overtaken in the 1970’s by the now much more popular “Holy Shit”. An important discovery for the sake of scholarly knowledge, to be sure! What other deep truths of human nature could be revealed?

My goodness, what foul mouths we have.

Google Labs has provided us with such a powerful database of knowledge, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it knew larger truths that we aren’t able to answer on our own…the state of our world, for example?


Play with the Books Ngram Viewer and post what you come up with in the comments (be aware that the search is case sensitive). Or, Tweet them to me!

Images: Google

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  1. jhwang says:

    @Andy Neuenschwander: nice analysis

    Here is another interesting graph

    Couldn’t do Firefly since that is a common word.

  2. @Heather: serious “fuck” dropoff around 1800. What the fuck?

    @jhwang: I love the Dr. Who graph…there are distinct jumps in popularity that coincide with new iterations of the show/TV movies. Interesting how Python just shoots up until 2005 (premiere of Spamalot) and then drops off so sharply!

  3. jhwang says:

    Doctor Who, Monty Python update
    Doctor Who makes a comeback if you extend the date to 2008!

  4. Heather says:

    I searched for “fuck” going back to 1600, and there’s all these entries in the 17th and 18th centuries. Damn, we were potty mouths! I started looking at the actual entries, and I found an entry for the Bible (Woo-hoo! The word fuck was in the bible!), but it was a misread of the old-fashioned letter s. Ngram was reading suck as fuck.

  5. jhwang says:

    Doctor Who, Monty Python