Arise culturnomics!

By Razib Khan | December 16, 2010 1:59 pm

First, read Ed Yong’s post. There’s real reporting in it. Such as:

There’s also an issue with attitudes among people in the field. “Biologists were already convinced that genes and genomic variation were key to understanding problems in their field,” he adds. “Social scientists and humanists do not now work with large digital text collections, and relatively few of them now believe that they should do so.”

Genomics did not mean that genetics disappeared. Broad surveys complement, they don’t substitute. You can read the paper for free at Science if you register, Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books:

We constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed. Analysis of this corpus enables us to investigate cultural trends quantitatively. We survey the vast terrain of “culturomics”, focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology. “Culturomics” extends the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.

You can get much of the data at the Culturnomics website. And, you can explore some of the data via a Google browser. Below are some comparisons/trends I found interesting:

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MORE ABOUT: Culturnomics
  • pconroy

    Very interesting!

    My Dad uses many somewhat archaic words, and when I search they show almost no hits compared to their better known counterparts, such as:

    1. Vexed vs Angry, Frustrated, Mad

    2. Blaggard vs Scoundrel

  • Ed Yong

    That’s “blackguard”

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  • pconroy


    It seems that you are more familiar with the British spelling of the word than the Irish slang one.

    The word spelled “Blaggard” has been around since at least the 1830’s, according to Google Scholar…

  • twl

    * The use of the words “justice”, “security”, “sovereignty” and “progress” rapidly increased after 1790.
    * The words “rights”, “duties”, “authority” and “freedom” accelerated from about 1745.
    * The word “property” rose rapidly at this time, however it also had high usage between 1635-1650.
    * “Duties” were prominent before the 18th Century.

    Brilliant resource!

  • Sandgroper

    “Tofu” in English sounds nothing like any pronunciation in any Chinese dialect. Don’t know about Japanese. Why don’t English speakers just call it “bean curd”, or does that demystify it too much?

    Interestingly (to me) usage of “cobber” increased rapidly during the years of WW II, peaked in 1945, and has tailed off ever since.

    Same with “furphy”, which I believe entered the vocab during WW I.

    Likewise “stone the crows” peaked in 1945.

    War years seemed to generate a lot of usage of traditional Australian colloquialisms. No surprise, really.

    “Black fella” peaked between 1930 and 1950, whereas “boong” peaked between 1950 and the mid-1980s. “Abo” peaked in the late 1950s, but the curve is much flatter. “Black fella” was a relatively respectful term, “boong” definitely not (Graham “Polly” Farmer, the greatest Australian footballer of all time, was known among his opponents as “the big boong” although this turned into a grudging term of respect, but the word is otherwise universally derogatory and highly offensive.)

  • pconroy
  • pconroy

    This one is interesting:,Online,Gopher,FTP,Google&year_start=1990&year_end=2008&corpus=5&smoothing=0

    I compare AOL, Online, Gopher, FTP, Google and see that Gopher peaked in 1995, while AOL and FTP in 2003, and s sharp takeoff of Google in 2002


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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