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Google in 1900? Our Guest and Listeners Puzzle It Out...

This article is more than 12 years old.
The use of the word "google" over time in books (
The use of the word "google" over time in books (

We spoke today about the new Google Labs project that is allowing scholars to track cultural trends by analyzing word usage over time in digitized books. During the show, we touched on usage patterns of the word "google." The graph above is a screen shot of the trend in Google's "Ngram Viewer," and you can see a spike around 1900. Here are some additional perspectives:

From our guest Erez Lieberman Aiden, who emailed us after the show:

Google was used around 1900 pretty frequently, sometimes as the name of a person (such as the character Barney Google), sometimes in the expression googley-eyes, and often onomatopoetically. Nowadays, it's most often associated with an internet search engine some of your listeners might be familiar with. As a result, naming your son Google has entirely different connotations these days.

Listener Janet, who posted this note on the show page, seems to agree with guest Erez:

The spike in the use of Google in 1900 is the comic character Barney Google.

But listener WordGirl, who also posted a note, comes to a different conclusion:

I went ahead and did a little poking around myself, and it seems the 20th century usage of google refers to a breaking ball play in cricket. If you plug in both terms, you can track that usage with the spike shown when you just search “google.”

I just couldn’t let that go, but I’m glad I figured it out.

This program aired on December 22, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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