Google Introduces Ngram Viewer, Time Travel for Bookworms and Word Nerds

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.

Taylor has written 137 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. I searched sandwiches. A lot of people ate sandwiches in 1940, but it went down around 1980’s. However! It’s on a rise. It made me sad when “bagel sandwiches” didn’t come up with anything.

    Have you looked up sandwiches on Wiki?! There are some awesome names for sandwiches. For example, Roti John, Muffuletta, Vada Pav, and my all time favorite name, Fluffernutter.

  2. so far i’ve learned that “blimey” hit an all-time high around 1935 or so with such classic lines as

    “And ‘ere’s a fine girl, Gawd blimey, all this time fretting abart what’s only a man after all!”

    and

    ‘Blimey, they’ve set the cart afire!’

    • Also, “straight” bucks the trend while “heterosexual” doesn’t. Maybe due to its having another meaning? I doubt that’s the case with “queer”, as it’s old meaning is pretty much completely unused.

  3. you guys might be interested in the BYU corpora (http://corpus.byu.edu/), which include the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the
    Corpus of Historical American English, the British National Corpus, The TIME Corpus of American English and
    BYU-OED: Oxford English Dictionary. I can’t promise graphs but they’re still interesting – they’ll show you where each example of the keyword was used.

    The Historical Thesaurus of English was just integrated into the New OED, but i imagine normal people don’t have subscriptions to the OED. Here it is, free-standing: http://libra.englang.arts.gla.ac.uk/historicalthesaurus/menu1.html

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