Vampire vs. Zombie: Comparing Word Usage Through Time

By Alexis C. Madrigal

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.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/vampire-vs-zombie-comparing-word-usage-through-time/68203/