Long term trends: The Ngrams Viewer

“A database of intentions” is how John Battelle described Google. It is a thrilling concept, at times unsettling, that you can see into the searching soul of the connected populace by seeing the words they use t find things.

Google Trends is one of those miraculous tools of the web that has quickly become commonplace. With a prophylactic time-lapse to keep its powerful advantage of insight, Google lets us see what people were search for by year and by region.

The other day I came across the Google Ngrams Viewer for the first time. This gives a slightly longer trends view in language, taking all the books since 1800 as its data set (actually up to 2008, I think).

 

I took a look at my first name, which is often misspelled by others as there is more common variant “Anthony” rather than my “Antony”. The latter is the Roman spelling, the former a Medieval version. In this Ngram chart though you can see that, in published works at least, the decline of the of the h-less version was confirmed only in the 19th century…

There are hours of fascination to be spent playing with this tool, uniting my love of data data with an even stronger obsession with words. Here is war and peace, as it were: note the relatively brief upticks in the trend for talking about peace after the two World Wars of the twentieth century, and the perhaps tragic falling away of peace as something that we write about since the 1980s, while war trends upward…

Over-simplifying the analysis like that is dangerous: this data is more likely to be useful in understanding the fortunes of words and phrases than instant snapshots of the forces of history playing out. Fun, nonetheless…