Monday 1 February 2016

Some Useful Sites For Writers - Ngram

Google Ngram Viewer

Unbelievably useful tool for checking whether certain words are anachronistic when writing historical sequences. Seriously between this site and Wikipedia no script writer has any excuse for peppering their dialogue with words and concepts that belong to the modern age. I'm looking at you Sleepy Hollow!

Essentially it's a tool for discovering word frequency amongst a corpus of 5 million books, searches can be differentiated by language and time period. If you need to know whether your 18th Century British emigre uses the word phrase 'learning curve' in casual conversation than this is the tool for you.

Google have wasted no money on making this site user friendly but once you've mastered the joys of late 80s Boolean search commands you'll never look back. 

An important caveat is that words can change their meaning over time - thus in the early 18th Century the word 'projector' referred to people that promoted financial or industrial schemes. It's technological meaning doesn't arrive until later.


Mantelli said...

Very nice! I get frustrated by things like that, and by carelessness with food and drink items. So many writers, for instance, don't seem to realize that hot cocoa powder didn't exist until 1828, or that commercial production of tea in India didn't start until 1820. So an 18th century household opening a cocoa tin or serving Darjeeling just wouldn't happen, yet historical novelists ignore these facts.

Ronnie B. said...

Oh! Don't start me on anachronisms...

I was reading a book set in the 1870s, and at one point a group of characters were singing the "Shine up your buttons with Brasso" song.

This would be a very good trick, since Brasso wasn't invented until the early 1900s.

Harlequin said...

Regarding the changing of meanings, I find quite useful for both words and phrases.

Jane L Hodson said...

You were already one of my favourite ever authors. You've just moved up the charts. (I'm a historical linguist.)

The site is a particular joy for those who want to know about prochronisms (terms being used before they were coined), with a particular emphasis on Downton Abbey.

Ben Aaronovitch said...

That's a brilliant site - thank you.