Google Book’s Ngram Viewer: Fascinating Play on Words.

I love words. I love dictionaries. I scored highest on my verbal scores on my SATs and GREs as well as a psychological indicator for ADD I took in my first years of being a professor. I thought I had Attention Deficit Disorder because I had no willpower to finish my work. Still a problem but the psychologist used his data to tell me I was fine.

Data is a fascinating arena. Platforms today can pull all kinds of data together but what it means takes some real thinking. Still it’s fascinating to see what it might suggest. This kind of stuff keeps me curious and learning. It does not answer questions. It raises them.

Anyone seen Google Books Ngram Viewer. Enter a word and map its appearances in literature since 1800s. I tried out some risque words dealing with race, gender, and identity.

With the Ngram Viewer, you can type in a single term or separate terms you want to compare with a comma. This tool is case-sensitive, so be sure you have the word you want right spelled correctly case-wise.

First I typed in “nigger.” The graph spikes in the 1860s, the 1940s and the 1970s. Could go back and analyze what was happening historically and sociologically in those periods that affected their spikes in literature. the 1860s is around the peak of the institution of slavery if my memory serves me well.

Next, I typed in “African.” Made the mistake of entering it lowercase at first and what I got at first justified my bias about Western views of Africa, but the capital  “A” made for more accurate representation though the graph was not that much better in the big picture of things. The word “African” barely registers anything significant until the 1960s–perhaps due to the rise of black power movements in the US and African American scholars entering the literary fray. Then the graph shows a steep incline in the late 1950s with a significant dip in the 1990s. ,

The word “bitch,” a word people are afraid to use for dogs but it household parlance on daytime and evening TV for women and their male offspring, those “sons” of witches, shows on a graph as a steep and steady incline since the 1920s, before that it was pretty leveled off and low by comparison.
I went back and compared “nigger” and “whiteness” and found the graph of these two terms quite revealing.

Check it out for yourself. Do you own comparisons. If the contrast between the sets is too large, one of the terms may show as a flat line at the bottom. If so, try them separately first and compare by sight.

Wonder what you’ll discover. Do share any of your insights.


If all this stirred up some stuff for you, i hope you’ll agree to be offended and stay connected here. I love to voice what’s unspoken and matters of difference brings a lot along with it.  To ease your pains, check out this TED Talk by Nigerian author and US Professor Chris Abani to soothe your soul and our humanity.

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