Vampire vs. Zombie: Comparing Word Usage Through Time

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With the release of Google's Ngram Viewer, the words contained in millions of books became data for our collective imaginative investigations. The tool allows you to compare the frequency with which words and phrases have been use through time. And trust me: it's much cooler than that might sound.

Digital humanities scholars have been doing this kind of research for years, but opening up the Google Books corpus (or least one-third of it) for easy investigation like this is unprecedented. Google estimates that this data is based on about five percent of all the books published since Gutenberg.

Matthew Wisnioski, a professor at Virginia Tech in science and technology studies wrote in to explain that he'd done work like this *by hand* as a gradute student.

I felt the pang of anxiety that comes when a new machine replaces craft work. I am a scholar in science and technology studies, writing a book about engineers' social visions of technology in the 1960s. I wish the Ngram viewer existed when I was in graduate school! I spent numerous hours creating spreadsheets from historical newspaper databases to create charts like these.

I posted about the viewer yesterday and asked for your help finding other telling Ngrams. Responses have flooded in on Twitter and in the comments of that post. Here's my first attempt at bringing some of your brilliant finds to light. (And keep them coming: you know you want an excuse to play with the Ngramometer all day.)

(One thing to keep in mind. The x and y axes are changing through all of these slides. The time periods are different (though I tended to focus on the 20th century) and the overall frequency of the words vary widely.)

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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