2 March 2017

Usage

Words wax and wane. Words that were once in popular usage may descend into disuse as new words come along - their use increasing with each passing year. Then they too may become unfashionable and fade into obscurity. Furthermore, it seems indisputable to me that the use of words will often reflect fundamental aspects of human society at any particular time - just like our art, our architecture, our fashions or our music.

You can easily imagine that before the mid nineteen twenties, the word "television" was unheard of but then its use grew exponentially, reaching its zenith in 1996. It's the same with the word "laptop". Before 1980 it hardly existed at all but then its use began to storm upwards and that is still increasing.

How do I know these things? Well, I have been checking out a relatively new  facility we can all access in Google. Type into Google the word "define" and then follow this with the word you wish to research. Click "Enter" and then, if your word is in the Google store, you will see it defined followed by a light grey arrow pointing downwards for more information about the word.

At the bottom you will see a usage graph and if you click on this you will get to the Google Ngram Viewer where you can see usage results in more detail. It's fascinating but it's mostly about published words - not the more difficult to quantify oral use of language.

I thought I would check out some more words, looking at declines and inclines. between 1800 and 2012. Here we go:-

"fantasy"
 "goodness":-
 "kindness":-
 "Muslim":-
 "obedience":-
 "professional":-
 "turmoil":-
 And last but not least, "blogger":-
As I suggested before, we can read things into language use through the ages. The words we choose to employ speak of who we are. You could argue on this basis that there is more turmoil in the world today, more fantasy too but less kindness and goodness. Two words I didn't illustrate in this post were "love" and "family". It's nice to observe that the frequency of these words has remained pretty consistent through the last two hundred years. Why not check out some words that interest you? Do you think their use will be up or down?

29 comments:

  1. Interesting. I didn't know that arrow was there, although I have looked up definitions many a time. Te usage of the word "alcoholism" seems to have risen sharply around the time of WW1, then dropped in the post WW2 years only to peak massively in the 1980s. It's dropped since, but still not to a flatline.

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    1. It would be so good if the word "alcoholism" could flatline, then the prevalence of that particular disease would surely be in decline and family members would not have to witness horrible, lingering deaths.

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  2. 'Awesome' seems to be the word of the moment. Hardly used at the beginning of the century but has risen steadily since the 1950's.

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    1. Hey, that's awesome Sue!

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    2. I just knew you would say that.

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    3. Predictability has been on the increase since 1900.

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  3. Here in Germany, once a year "word of the year" is determined by counting how many times and with what relevance it has been present in the media. You won't be surprised to learn that "Flüchtlingskrise" was one of the most widely used words here in 2015 and 2016.

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    1. PS: I love old words! Maybe you know from the book reviews on my blog that I often read books written in the period between 1850 and 1920. More often than not, their use of language is elegant, and sometimes very amusing, and not always as verbose as one would think. I have learnt quite a few really nice words from my reading adventures. Persnickety, anyone?

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    2. "Persnickety" is an American spelling of the English/Scots word "pernickety" which of course I much prefer as I am not American. I had to look up "Flüchtlingskrise", imagining that it was a reality TV programme or a new brand of German lager beer.

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  4. I'm not sure what this says about me but when I tryped the word 'define' Google's auto suggestions were narcissist, sociopath, fascism and holistic.

    An interesting one was 'wireless' which flatlines until around 1900, peaks in the 1920s then gradually falls off until around 2000 when it suddenly spikes, presumably because of wi-fi.

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    1. I notice that the use of "parrot" has been pretty consistent for two hundred years. But "Round-Up" really only appeared round about 1890. It is no surprise to me that Google threw up "narcissist" and "sociopath" when you typed "define" in. I got "handsome", "virile" and "generous".

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  5. Blimey, what an interesting post. Is blimey there somewhere? Probably ! This could go on forever, looking up words !

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    1. Blimey peaked in 1940 but now it is coming back into fashion.

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  6. I'm glad you noticed this detail - as much as I look up definitions in Google, I never noticed that grey arrow. The other information that appears is also helpful. Thanks for the tip.

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    1. Procrastinating is on the rise again.

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    2. I'm probably skewing that one upwards :)

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  7. What a wonderful fun way I could spend the rest of the day YP! Thanks for this great blog.

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  8. As an aside, I looked up my surname, something I have strangely, never done. Seems I had better start blogging more consistently to live up to it!
    STEEDS: From Middle Dutch stedes, steeds, an adverbial genitive of stede (“steadfast, durable”), with umlaut from the more common stade, from Old Dutch *stādi ...

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    1. I thought steeds were cattle! Can you moo?
      I see "kiwi" is growing in popularity.

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  9. Now that's a cool site!

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    1. "cool" has been pretty consistent for 200 years.

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  10. Goodness and kindness seem to be suffering a decline.

    Alphie

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    1. But not in the Alphie Soup household, surely?

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  11. I abhor the over use of the word journey in the context of personal growth. It seems that even a small achievement qualifies as a journey these days.
    It's interesting that the use of the word made it modern peak around 2010, which is probably about the time i started to complain about it :)

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    1. I notice that "journey" was in fact used more than it is today back in the early part of the nineteenth century. I guess that every word we meet upon life's journey is travelling upon a journey of its own. Hey, I wanna pull in to the side of the road, my journey is making me feel nauseous.

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  12. That's so interesting! I know what I'll be doing for the next hour...

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    1. I notice that the word "secretary" is now in decline having had its heyday in the sixties.

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  13. Very interesting...when I get a few or more spare moments I'll look into this....and, no doubt, lose myself!!!

    And I read only a couple of days ago new words like "spiralise" have been entered into the Macquarie dictionary...over the past few months or so around 2,500 new words were entered...from memory, I think that was the number quoted.

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  14. What has more interest for me is the use of "added" words. For example when things used to be "correct" they are now "exactly correct". Which usage is correct?

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.