Marking My Words

I love investigative work—especially when it helps me keep track of my words.

Okay, logophiles, get ready for your newest obsession.

Livres en français, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Philippe Kurlapski

The Google Books Ngrams Database graphs the occurrence of various words or phrases in books over time. The database has been compiled from over five million books, and makes data about your favorite words available to you at no cost. So let’s play.

The New York Times points out, “With a click you can see that ‘women,’ in comparison with ‘men,’ is rarely mentioned until the early 1970s, when feminism gained a foothold.”

Ooh, this has potential.

In a comparison of “family farm” vs. “corporate farm” from 1980 onward, “family farm” is mentioned much more often!

Between 1970 and the present, the incidence of “organic” has gone down slightly … but I’m working on that.

“Farmgirl” vs. “farmboy” is interesting: around 1880 and 1900, the lines briefly intersect. After that, “farmboy” beats “farmgirl” by a lot, but from 1980 on, “farmgirl’s” occurrence is at its highest point!

Of course, it’s entirely too easy to make false assumptions or jump to conclusions when we rely solely on limited tools like these. But, that being said, I stand behind the implications of “farmgirl” and “fabulous” both being on a general rise since 1953.


Track a word or two and share the results with us in the comments, whydontcha?

  1. I am a data freak, so when it came to this I am all game. 🙂 And being a soapmaker, Guess the first word I searched, Soap! Which the results were very intriguing to me, the word soap was on a dramatic rise from 1800 – 1950’s. In the 1950’s the word soap must have become a dirty word in literature because it plummets until the 1980 where it simply fell flat. Interesting Very Interesting. Thanks for the resource!

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