Google recently launched a new tool called Books NGram Viewer, which charts the frequency that a word or phrase appears in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over a selected time period. The tool has access to around 11.5% of all the books ever written, thanks to Google’s ongoing book-scanning project.
The tool is amazing, with probably enormous potential for future academic study. It’s already driving a new type of social science research, called cultoromics (“the application of high-throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture.”)
It’s also a great way to kill a few hours, if you’re looking for a time filler. Here’s one chart I randomly created a few minutes ago:
It charts the phrases “hip hop” (red) and “rap music” (blue) from 1950 to 2008.* As you may be able to see, “rap music” was the more common term during the ’90s, but declined after 2000 as “hip hop” took over.
What does this mean? Who knows. Maybe it speaks to the increasing legitimacy of hip hop among book writers (“rap music” has a more derogatory connotation, at least in my mind), or maybe it’s the result of some other trend. Either way, it’s intriguing, and one example of the potential of this new tool. Well played, Google, well played.
*I had to add “music” after “rap” because the latter is also a common verb.