You can now search an approximate 4% of the books ever published for, well, whatever you want. Last week, Google introduced the Ngram Viewer, a poorly named tool that can search five centuries of the written word. To what ends? I have no idea, but it’s really fun, so stop asking stuff like that.
This will certainly fuel untold numbers of college theses written by students too stoned to conduct their own research, as well as providing an excellent, accessible and absurdly robust set of data for all kinds of fun stuff no one’s dreamed up yet. Google’s got a sense of humor so they went ahead and graphed a few funny things, but I’m sure we’ve got better ideas up our sleeves.
As CNET explains,
Ngram Viewer works rather simply. After you enter a word or phrase (up to five words), the tool displays a graph charting how frequently your term has appeared in books over that half a millennium. By default, the Ngram Viewer taps into books written in English. But you can change that to a different “corpus” or category of books, such as American English, British English, English Fiction, Chinese, French, German, Russian, or Spanish.
You can vary the years tracked, all the way from 1500 to 2008 or anywhere in between. Providing a wide range of years gives you more of an overview, while narrowing the years lets the tool graph a word’s usage in a more granular fashion year by year.
So go on! What are you waiting for? Below you can find some examples of the gems you can unearth, buried deep within the annals of our written language which are buried deep within a virtual pile of books on a virtual desk somewhere that is likely also virtual.