You won't believe the data on this Star Trek: TNG character!
September 17, 2014 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Search for word usage in movies and television over time.
Movies and television shows often reflect cultural trends of the time they are made in. Even movies that take place during the past or future can say something about the present through metadata or production style. Using the Bookworm platform, Benjamin Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, provides a tool that lets you see trends in movie and television dialogue.
posted by Room 641-A (40 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Neat tool.
posted by carping demon at 5:52 PM on September 17, 2014


There's a widget that lets you download your graph in various formats but I didn't see a way to link to them.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:53 PM on September 17, 2014


So Google Ngrams but for movies and tv, basically
posted by 207797 at 6:22 PM on September 17, 2014


   WORD    PEAK   YEAR
1. S***  231.4/M  1981
2. P***   19.4/M  2004
3. F***  183.9/M  2007
4. C***    8.4/M  1999
5. C.S.    4.4/M  2005
6. M.F.   29.7/M  1993
7. T***   10.8/M  1983
posted by Sys Rq at 6:52 PM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wait, apparently there was some sort of filter on those numbers. Fuck.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:58 PM on September 17, 2014


I looked up the n-word. Noticeable pattern of sharp increase followed by sharp decrease (or vice versa, I suppose). Just looking at it from the 1960s till now:
Movies peak in 1960, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1979, 1983, 1989, 1992, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2013. The drop-offs are usually pretty steep, the biggest being from 44.1 in 1973 (the highest peak overall) to 2.0 in 1977. And usually there's a much smaller spike in TV the year before. It's as if Hollywood only got up the nerve to use it after someone on TV did, and then they went overboard and then felt guilty.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:04 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


check out "curated." Zero before 2005 then off the charts.
posted by mono blanco at 7:04 PM on September 17, 2014


And T*** shouldn't even be on the list, man!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:44 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


When searching for movies, make sure you set the original language to English. When I don't filter by language, a lot of my searches show mainly foreign films, and I get different curves. I think the problem is that the search engine uses data from subtitles, but there's no knowing when the subtitles were written. Films that have been translated recently will use modern language in the subtitles (more swears, more overt acknowledgement of taboos from the time, current slang, etc.), but it'll be presented as if it was from the time.
posted by painquale at 7:45 PM on September 17, 2014


"provides a tool that lets you see trends in movie and television dialogue."

Do people use this for much else than looking at swear words?
posted by dgaicun at 7:57 PM on September 17, 2014


I wish screenwriters would try a little harder when writing mid-century dialog for something like Mad Men, The Hour, Life on Mars, etc. When someone says "learning curve" or snaps "not an option!" in a show which takes place in the 1950s, 60s or even 70s, I'm thinking come on, you don't have to be a philologist but try to convey just a little sense of the way people talked. I wasn't around either but I know this stuff is wrong and I'm not even a screenwriter.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:10 PM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do people use this for much else than looking at swear words?

Well, now I feel silly, but I looked up the use of word feminism, hmm, different strokes I guess.
posted by dawg-proud at 8:37 PM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


god passed madam in 1974 and never looked back.
posted by JamesD at 9:09 PM on September 17, 2014


I think everyone will be happy to hear that "hipster" is sharply on the decline.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:34 PM on September 17, 2014


I first searched for phaser as a likely way to see how accurate this is. Looks right. Also, I am geeky.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:42 PM on September 17, 2014


you don't have to be a philologist but try to convey just a little sense of the way people talked.

There is really no point in doing this, because the audiences watching these shows are watching them now, not in 1950 or whatever. The first priority of a screenwriter is to make the story and characters understood to the audience. If using a phrase like "learning curve" gets the job done, you use it.

If the first priority of screenwriting was historical accuracy in dialogue, TV would be abolished tomorrow.
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 PM on September 17, 2014


Well, now I feel silly, but I looked up the use of word feminism, hmm, different strokes I guess.

Diff'rent Strokes, actually. That was the Very Special Episode featuring guest star Donna Haraway.
posted by latkes at 10:10 PM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ben Schmidt has also written extensively about particular word choices in Mad Men, Downton Abbey and other series on his Prochronisms blog. Well worth reading, as is his series about 19th century shipping routes.
posted by enf at 10:16 PM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is really no point in doing this, because the audiences watching these shows are watching them now, not in 1950 or whatever

No point? A thing like that.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:23 PM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is really no point in doing this, because the audiences watching these shows are watching them now, not in 1950 or whatever.

Many viewers, including film critics, cultural historians, and others who analyze narratives consider diction an important component of verisimilitude.

Failing to sustain verisimilitude as a result of verbal, historical, and cultural anachronisms is sometimes considered to compromise the quality or integrity of an artistic rendering.

I'm not saying this is always the case, nor am I saying that representational accuracy of historical speech patterns is the be all end all. I am saying that for many "viewers" (and probably some screenwriters) such accuracy does have a point.
posted by mistersquid at 10:36 PM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


darmok. jalad. tanagra.

apparently the settings reset on page load. grr. try season/word count/no smoothing
posted by brappi at 11:35 PM on September 17, 2014


Do people use this for much else than looking at swear words?

I looked up Love. It is on the rise. This makes me happy.
posted by misha at 11:55 PM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


apparently the settings reset on page load. grr

Yes, permalinks are cool.
posted by jjwiseman at 12:55 AM on September 18, 2014


The drop-offs are usually pretty steep, the biggest being from 44.1 in 1973 (the highest peak overall) to 2.0 in 1977.

I would have guessed the peak for the n-word was 1974. Also from the same year. 1973 is still too close to be mere coincidence.
posted by TedW at 5:33 AM on September 18, 2014


3. F*** 183.9/M 2007

I am sure Obama is responsible for this in some way.
posted by TedW at 5:39 AM on September 18, 2014


One of the many things I loved about Freaks And Geeks was how much it committed itself to a narrow sense of time and place (Wikipedia says '80-'81) rather than throwing every broad, lazy contemporary signifier of an era at the screen. There's very little "Oh well, it's the beginning of the Eighties so lets chuck in some neon and Culture Club along with the Sex Pistols and Star Wars and Jaws and Rubik's Cubes, lol". (I'm studiedly ignoring the D&D episode here, obviously). The characters are living in the world that came before them, everything around them is old, the setting isn't just of their specific slice of time, attention is paid to making the period authentic. Verisimilitude! Extremely similitude!

What I'm building up to is that I'm totally not just being a dick when I say it really bugged me when one of the characters casually dropped the jarring '90s-ism "He's such a stalker!". Commonplace recognition of stalking in its modern sense here in the UK only happened in the early-mid '90s and definitely lagged behind the US but not by that much!
posted by comealongpole at 5:42 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


comealongpole: I'm studiedly ignoring the D&D episode here, obviously

You mean the D&D episode that used the 1983 printing of the AD&D Player's Handbook, with the Jeff Easley wizard art cover, instead of the original 1978 printing with the Dave Trampier demonic statue art cover?
posted by hanov3r at 7:31 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


We hit peak Oprah in 2008, apparently.
posted by frogstar42 at 7:51 AM on September 18, 2014


What's with the "Hitler" bump around 1990?
posted by CaseyB at 7:52 AM on September 18, 2014


Aww man, it doesn't like apostrophes. I have this annoyed fixation around how often Deep Space Nine characters say "don't you see?!"

They say it so many times. Nearly twice as often as TNG or Voyager, for example.

I would have liked to see the breakdown for the phrase across more scripts. It's such a lazy, useless phrase; it conveys nothing that isn't already apparent by the acting and the context.
posted by lesli212 at 8:50 AM on September 18, 2014


Many viewers, including film critics, cultural historians, and others who analyze narratives consider diction an important component of verisimilitude.

You know how people constantly bring this up, but screenwriters never do anything about it? It's because it actually doesn't matter, not because screenwriters are stupid.
posted by Sara C. at 8:55 AM on September 18, 2014


You know how people constantly bring this up, but screenwriters never do anything about it? It's because it actually doesn't matter, not because screenwriters are stupid.

I think there's an interesting discussion to be had about how one creates a convincing impression of a past time -- because, in one sense, you're right, complete fidelity to a past mode of speaking is impossible and perhaps even undesirable, since (many) audiences want a depiction of the past that only adopts certain markers of past speech. At the same time, to say it's completely unimportant is, I think, to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The writers of e.g. Downton Abbey do try to mimic 20s speech to some extent, and I think it's wrong to completely ignore that and say it "doesn't matter."
posted by crazy with stars at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


You know how people constantly bring this up, but screenwriters never do anything about it? It's because it actually doesn't matter, not because screenwriters are stupid.

I know what you're getting at, but you're being overly categorical here. Screenwriters do, in fact, make a broad stab at getting the period dialogue more or less "period." It's just that if there's some phrase (like "learning curve," for example) which they figure most people won't pick as anachronistic or which they themselves don't pick as anachronistic, they don't care. But it's not as if a Hollywood screenwriter writing a scene set in 1750 will have a character say "hey, man, that's totally groovy!" unless it's a comedy. So they care about verisimilitude, they just assume (rightly) that most of their audience are unlikely to make very fine distinctions about what is and is not anachronistic.

People who are being persnickety about these things, by the way, often commit an error in a different direction. The only evidence we have for "first use" of a phrase is (usually) the earliest written instance--but phrases will usually be in circulation for some time before they get committed to print. Some (though by no means all) of the solecisms people carp about in Downton Abbey and Mad Men etc. are actually plausible early or atypical uses.
posted by yoink at 10:21 AM on September 18, 2014


I wish screenwriters would try a little harder when writing mid-century dialog for something like Mad Men, The Hour, Life on Mars, etc. When someone says "learning curve" or snaps "not an option!" in a show which takes place in the 1950s, 60s or even 70s, I'm thinking come on, you don't have to be a philologist but try to convey just a little sense of the way people talked

According to this piece, "learning curve" was being used in English from at least 1903 onwards in a technical sense, but didn't enter widespread common usage until the 1970s. I think using it in something set in the 50s is defensible--especially in something like Mad Men where we could assume that some familiarity with technical social science language was common.
posted by yoink at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2014


Going back to the original link, the interesting thing about "learning curve" in specific is that it goes from zero mentions on television to a huge upward spike circa 1991. I'd be curious to know what happened that year to bring that particular phrase into common usage.

The term was apparently coined in 1909.

The dispute in terms of it being an anachronism is actually the phrase "on a steep learning curve", used in Downton Abbey, and concerns the use of the term "steep" more than anything else.
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2014


Learning Curve, the movie, 1991.
posted by misha at 11:44 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The dispute in terms of it being an anachronism is actually the phrase "on a steep learning curve", used in Downton Abbey, and concerns the use of the term "steep" more than anything else.

No, I don't think steep is the main sticking point there. It's much more that "learning curve" was not a phrase used at all outside of extremely specific occupational and academical works during the time in which Downton Abbey is meant to take place.
posted by misha at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2014


I'd be curious to know what happened that year to bring that particular phrase into common usage.

Since the graphs link to the subtitles in the database you could probably gather some context by reading the text from the various shows around the same time.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2014


Much wows
posted by CarolynG at 10:08 PM on September 19, 2014


A few interesting searches: Text. Vagina. Billionaire. Jesus. Seattle. Diarrhea.
posted by duffell at 7:34 PM on September 20, 2014


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