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I think Marx was a good place to begin. Before going below the fold, I made a guess as to when Marx would peak, and your results matched up fairly well with my priors. It's a way to check if the results make sense.

Suggestions: does e.g. "Keynes" and "Friedman" match up with recessions and inflation?

I wonder about the "half-life" of economic (and other) fads.

oh, "Marginal"! "Utility". Do they both climb rapidly after 1871?

It seems to me that you would first have to justify the assumption that each book carries the same weight. Some books are sold 5 milion times, others 1 milion times, and some barely 500.000 times or less. Could assume that if a term is in a popular book that you will see more books published using that term and that therefore the number of books are merely a proxy for how popular a particular book/idea was. You will still have a substantial lag then. I'd guess that the lag would decrease over time as time between writing and publishing has decreased.

Here is a minor but interesting example of three more or less interchangeable terms succeeding one another. Whether it also conveys some information about changing credit conditions, is harder to say.

Lemuel, that is very fun, I like it.

Martin, because of multiple editions, some books will have more weight than others but, yes, your point is a good one.

I'm not sure of the best response. Traditional intellectual history has been a study of great thinkers, of great books. Yet this in some sense assumes the diffusion of ideas. Counting mentions - the number of times freedom or justice or choice or utility or marginal value is mentioned - does give a measure of the currency or diffusion of those ideas.


Let me give you an example. The term 'international' is generally attributed to Jeremy Bentham, who coined the term in his writings on international law in the late 18th century. That's traditional intellectual history. What that doesn't answer is how and when use of the term took off. The ngram viewer does that: ngram of 'international'. Now that doesn't tell you the context - is this international law, international society, international relations, etc? But it does chart the growing importance of that concept, and that's something worth knowing.

Nick, here are the Keynes/Friedman results. I understand there's a little town in England called Milton Keynes, though, and that might skew things.

These are the results for Keynes/Friedman with American English only - much less Keynesian influence.

Wow! Milton Keynes was founded in 1967, so that might explain the sudden rise in Keynes around 1970 in British English, which isn't there in American. The little spike in Keynes around 1910 was presumably J.N.Keynes, the father.

Via email from Brett Reynolds:

Your blog said it couldn't accept my comment, so here it is. Perhaps
you could post this in the comments or do something with it.

Tools like the Ngram viewer are often used in corpus linguistics and
natural language processing, which would make those fields natural
places to look for tools and approaches.

Good corpora are representative of a particular domain, and in that
respect, Google's book corpus is outstanding. But size isn't
everything. Google's corpus, as accessed through the n-gram viewer, is
missing much of the meta data that makes deeper investigation possible
(and the meta data for Google books is notorious sloppy, though they've
made large improvements.) Similarly, its character recognition
technology is very good, but the long s causes quite a problem in the
data between the mid 17th century and the early 18th.

Syntactic parsing and tagging makes searches easier. You might, for
example want 'can' as a lexical verb (e.g. can the tomatoes), not as a
modal verb (e.g., yes, I can) or as a noun. It would also be nice to be
able to group words by lemmas so that when I search for 'can' I also
get 'cans' 'canned' and 'canning'. It would also let you look for
strings like "Marx [verb] the revolution".

Semantic tagging, so that you can search for particular word senses, is
also useful.

Non-contiguous collocation is another useful property to look at, but
not available with the Ngram viewer.

And, finally (well not really, but I'm going to stop with the
criticisms here), you should be able to drill down and see the actual
output in context, which isn't possible here.

A much better (but still free) interface is that offered by Mark Davies
at Brigham Young here: http://corpus.byu.edu/
Unfortunately, Mark's corpora are far smaller and limited to what he
could collect for free (except the BNC, which was assembled elsewhere),
both of which limit their ability to be representative.

Of course, the "culturomics" paper in Science would be a good place to
look at approaches
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2010/12/15/science.1199644

For more on what constitutes a good corpus, see
http://www.ahds.ac.uk/creating/guides/linguistic-corpora/index.htm

For some more thoughts from the folks as Language Log, see Ben Zimmer's
post here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2859 and the posts
by Geoff Nunberg and Mark LIberman that he links to.

Jean Véronis illustrates some of the problems with the corpus and its
interface being proprietary to Google here (though this is from 2005,
this issue is, I think, still relevant):
http://blog.veronis.fr/2005/03/google-snapshot-of-update.html

Adam Killgarrif and the folks at Lexicography Master Class
http://www.lexmasterclass.com/ make a business of teaching people how
to do this kind of analysis.

Those are my suggestions. I hope they help.

-----------------------
Brett Reynolds
Professor of English for Academic Purposes
English Language Centre
Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

Brett: sometimes it won't let me comment either. I copy my comment, sign out, sign back in again, then paste, add anything, delete it again, and post.

Capitalism v communism might be a better proxy for comparing smiths ideas with marx's

Ian, I don't know. In British English, capitalism peaked in around 1990, whereas in American English, relative appearances of capitalism peaked in the 1930s - perhaps in the context of 'the failure of capitalism'?

Ian, though those do show an earlier decline than Karl Marx, with the tailing off in relative frequency of references starting in the 1960s - but only in the US - in British English the trends is different - then again capital C Communism in British English shows a trend much more like the American trend. Actually this is a good example of how case sensitivite the ngrams viewer is - it makes a big difference whether one does C or c.

Brett (and others to whom this may occur): My apologies. I've not set any a priori controls on comments; I clean up spam ex post. But for some reason, typepad seems to have a will of its own in these matters.

Small correction: the long 's' issue runs until the early 19th century, not the early 18th as I wrote.

One more thing: you can drill down to the actual data to a certain extent by clicking the links at the bottom, but Google decides which links you see first.

Only communists talk about "capitalism"; capitalists talk about a market economy.

Only capitalists talk about "communism"; communists talk about a socialist economy.

Gotta be careful how you interpret those trends.

Nick - yes and no, market economy is a term that didn't really take off in a big way until the 1990s: see this ngram for market economy, socialist economy and free market.

I found the comparison of past, present, and future rather interesting around 1800. The future doesn't change but the present and past are now seen as different and worth commenting on.

I see it is the long s causing the problem. Including paft and prefent rectifies them.

My favourite one is when you cross "ISLM" and "DSGE"

citoyen, yes, that one is excellent, I couldn't see what you meant until I changed the time frame for analysis to 2008, picking up the intersection in the use of the two terms in around 2004.

In re ISLM and DSGE. Yes, but RBC way dominates both of them all the way back to 1940! I wonder what it meant for 1981.

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