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An extremely addictive new Internet toy allows you to track the frequency of specific words in books going back all the way to 1500. We decided to check out how words like "depression," "ho," and "vagina" fared through the ages.

According to the Times, Google used over 5 million books to create its searchable database of words and phrases over time, which creators hope will allow humanities scholars to track the development of literature in new ways. Whatever, we know what you care about:

Penis vs. Vagina


Looks like there was a dip in writing about sexyparts around the Great Depression, which makes a certain amount of sense. But why the sudden interest in vaginas around 1883 or so? One thing I know: Treasure Island, published that year, was not responsible. Nor was there a corresponding spike in the mention of sex itself:

Sex vs. Sexual Intercourse

It is of great scientific significance that the 1980s-2000s portion of the "sex" graph looks like boobs.


Anal Sex vs. Oral Sex

Kids today with their disgusting oral sex writings! And to a slightly lesser extent their anal sex! Back in the 1800s we never talked about such things. But oddly, we were talking about hos:

Pimp vs. Ho


I actually think the 1860s ho-spike probably stems from "land ho!"-type exclamations, but I'm pretty sure the slight increase post-2000 is all due to the ho-bag variety. Pimpin' remains curiously flat across much of the last two centuries, but if you take a longer view, you'll see it really had its moment back in about 1660.

Sorority vs. Fraternity


Interest in the Greek system seems to have peaked around 1910, though it's possible that writers back then were just really into the general concept of brotherhood. Looks like sorority life got another little boost around 1930 — but the advent of the game Sorority Life appears to have had little effect as yet.

He Sobbed vs. She Sobbed


Sobbing in general is down these days, and the great big sobbing gap that started opening around 1810 seems to be widening again. Can John Boehner fix this?

Depression vs. Sorrow


So what makes us sob? In one of the most striking graphs I found, depression outpaced sorrow around, well, the Great Depression and never looked back. And while some of those references must be to the big-D variety, I'm betting the publication of the DSM (first edition: 1952) and subsequent pop-psychology literature have had a lot to do with depression's continued dominance.

He Worked vs. She Worked


This is a cool one because you can see the spike in ladies working during WWII, and the corresponding trough in the postwar years. But throughout, "he worked" has remained far more common.



Sadly, "jezebel" has not yet regained the prominence it enjoyed in the early 1800s, when painted strumpets with loose morals obviously roamed the literary landscape. We're working on it.

In 500 Billion Words, New Window On Culture [NYT]
Books Ngram Viewer [Google Labs]


Image via Valerie Potapova/