Archive for December, 2010

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Romeo and Juliet, with—Get your mind out the gutter!

Today Google released its Books Ngram Viewer, a remarkable statistical snapshot of the books in Google. The New York Times did an nice piece on it.

So I went to work on it. My guess was that, like much else with Google books, the data was ratty. It didn’t have to look far. At first glance this chart appears to show that “fuck” had a remarkable early history—being more popular in 1725 than even today! (link)

Don’t get too excited. A quick search on the phrase in books between 1700 and 1800 treed the cause:

Yes, Google can’t tell between an f and an ſ, the “s without a bar” more properly known as a long, descending or medial s. To the disappointment of many, Shakespeare wrote “suck’d.” The effect pops up all over. Here’s a graph of “crimſon” vs. “crimson.” If nothing else we can now follow the demise of the ſ with precision.

There’s no question this is a cool tool. But given Google’s grand ambitions and how common s is in English, it’s a pretty startling lapse.

Labels: google, google book search, humor