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December 21, 2010 • News

Google Ngrams Lets You Search Historical Word Usage

My wife is the Vice President of our middle school PTO, and therefore last Friday night (while Travis was out winning a state championship) I was chaperoning the middle school dance. Aside from all of the expected drama and tears, I noticed that the hip word for everything with the 8th grade boys was ‘ghetto’. Of course, for me that doesn’t have positive connotations, but for them … it means super-cool. I wondered when it came into use and how it had gone from the meanings I associated with the poor areas of World War II Warsaw through the inner city poverty implications into the new meaning as ‘best thing ever’. So I searched NGrams at Google Labs and got the graph above.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer allows you to search out words in any of the huge databases of books in the Google system. According to the site:

When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years.

So naturally I kept searching things, looking for works like obsequious, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, and so on. I also looked to see how Jazz and Rock music got covered, which shows a nice transition.

Head on over to NGrams at Google Labs to find out when and where other words appeared.

Source: Urlesque via BuzzFeed

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