Google’s newish Ngram Viewer turns the millions of books that Google has digitized into a single, supremely powerful concordance—and lets you follow the evolution (and occasional disappearance) of nearly every word in the language.
You can look up dirty words—yes, they all spiked radically in the sixties, but not all of them spiked in quite the same way—or trace various racial and religious epithets (and end up with an EKG of American fears and hatreds). Follow trends (and set up popularity contests) by plugging related words and/or phrases into a single graph. But it sometimes pays to plot one line at a time, and watch words like crikey, honest, ideals, shame, compassion, and optimism surf the tides of our public imagination.
This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.