Did you know that the word “vampire” has been used quite frequently in literature since the 1800s, but “zombie” didn’t really get its start until the late 1920s? How about how often authors forgot the last letter of Shakespeare’s name?
Well, now you (and I and everybody with internet access) can experiment with how often a word occurred in literature through history thanks to Google’s new Ngram site. (Yes, you get TWO Google posts for the price of one today! )
I’ve spent lots of time playing around with…erh, researching interesting things such as how often the phrase “little did I know” occurs in books. I’m not quite sure how it will fit into any academic research (or how I would fund that research), but it’s still fascinating to note that the phrase was used very frequently in the early 1800s, hit an all time low around 1830, only to peak again around 1850, then decline for a while before holding steady until 2000, after which it took off at an alarming rate.
I’m not the only one who’s spending way too much time on this site. The blog Jezebel tried it out on different sexual terminology. They noted that there was a decline in writing about “penis” and “vagina” around the Great Depression but then a huge peak in the usage of “vagina” around 1883.
This tool is supposedly developed for academics and Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist and adjunct full professor in the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley, reviewed it for that purpose for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Linguistic research is of course very important, but isn’t it much more fun to find out how much more often “tits” are used than “boobs?”
Try out the site and let us know what astonishing facts (academic or titillating or other) you found in your quest for word and phrase usage through the ages.