Google Ngrams

My husband hates when people say, “Oh she could have cared less about it, don’t worry.” Well, if she could have, why didn’t she?! We always laugh about this, and I always stop before I say it to make sure I use the right one. When did this become popular to morph the phrase “she couldn’t care less” into “she could care less”? I mean, they are exactly opposite! Well, enter Google Ngram. It looks like it was right around the 1970s that this error became popular. It has only grown since then! (Couldn’t care less = blue; could care less = red)

Let me introduce you to Google Ngrams. It’s pretty amazing. I wrote on my other blog about linguistics and the Brown Corpus and how this can be used for practical applications in language teaching. Well, this is the most usable corpus I have seen yet. With this new section of Google, you can track how words have been used in English writing since 1500 B.C.  Basically, Google has incorporated around 5 million books in the English language and searches them to find the word or string of words you enter into the search bar. If you include two terms or two strings, then you can see how those words compare in all of the writings within the time frame that you choose. That’s pretty amazing!

It is really fun to play around on, but trust me, there are practical ways to use this information. If my first example wasn’t enough, check this out. Would you guess that more writing has been done on conservatives (blue) or liberals (red) in the last century?

Hmmmm, apparently liberals. Interesting. If you narrow it down to 2005-2008, the lines actually get pretty even. That’s interesting. Okay, and this one is just funny. It seems that people could not decide whether or not to actually use this phrase . . . maybe it was controversial. Who knows.

Blast it all.

Anyhow, I find this fascinating. I could spend hours on here discovering word usages and when phrases became popular. However, I’m failing to come up with actual intriguing instances to show you, so you should just check out these links on it:

TED Talk: What we learned from 5 million books

thoughtfulconvergence: 5,000,000 Books


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