Popular Word: Sex Wins, Love Loses

It is an apt reflection of changes in society, in world politics and policies

Published: Oct 26, 2011
Popular Word: Sex Wins, Love Loses

In Jean-Luc Godard’s The New World, you could pick up a dictionary and not find words you knew existed. The government would keep publishing updated versions of the dictionary without words which it deemed unsuitable for use, knowing that people would gradually forget them.

It is quite a different matter that, in reality, the Oxford dictionary is updated frequently, bringing new words within its folds as the English language evolves and grows.

Google Ngram is an extraction tool, which, on the face of it, is a boring graph: Type in a word and it shows you its usage in published works between the years 1800 and 2000. You could then proceed to search for snippets of books where these words have been used by using Google Books.

But stop, and think about it. It is an apt reflection of changes in society, in world politics and policies. So, for instance, while the usage of ‘civil war’ has dropped dramatically over this period, ‘terrorism’ has shot up. Use of ‘war’ was highest around the 1940s. And while ‘love’ has taken a beating over the past 1,200 years, ‘sex’ has had a rollicking time.

(This story appears in the 04 November, 2011 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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