As part of its mission of organizing the world's information, Google has been scanning and digitizing millions of books. The company estimates that there are around 130 million existing books. So far, it has scanned more than 12 million. The goal is to digitize all of them by the end of the decade, creating an unprecedented resource.
Google Books offers full text search of all the volumes in its digital library. It also has amassed a database of 500 billion words from books published between 1500 and 2008. Using a recently released tool, you can graph the occurrence of keywords over time. Warning: It can be addictive.
According to Erez Lieberman Aiden, a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard, â€œThe goal is to give an 8-year-old the ability to browse cultural trends throughout history, as recorded in books.â€ Aiden was a member of the team that compiled the data.
So how does it work? You can search for the number of times a word or term appears over a specified time period. I searched for “chocolate” between 1700 and 2000. Here's the result:
Next, I added “vanilla”. As you can see by the trend line, it's not nearly as popular, although it generally follows a similar trend.
For those of you sidelined by winter weather and looking for some fun with words, give Google's Ngram Viewer a try.