Friday, January 14, 2011

Word play

A new tool from Google lets us compare the frequency of apple names over time in a database of book texts. Consider the below graph of three different names for the Newtown Pippin:

Albemarle Pippin (blue) is the name of this apple in the Southeastern U.S.; Newton Pippin (green) is a variant; the original name is red. You can see that for several decades in the middle of the 20th century the Albemarle name was more popular than the original.

The actual frequency of any of these names is rare, but the graph lets us compare the relative frequency of words.

Update: Google changed this service, and now the embedded version (above) is harder to read. You can view this chart in all its interactive glory here.

Another graph compares the names of three venerable heirlooms with popular newcomer Honeycrisp (red). The others are Roxbury Russet (blue), Blue Pearmain (green), and Winter Banana (yellow).

(Update: Or view here.)

The map can stray far from the territory; in this case the relative frequency of the word "Honeycrisp" in Google's corpus of book texts is not a very good proxy for this new variety's actual popularity, which is great.

Click on either of the charts to see the Ngram Viewer page with links to the works where the words appear, organized by year.

Make your own comparisons if you like. Beware, however, of single-word apple names such as McIntosh that have non-apple meanings.

A bit more about the Google Ngram Viewer here.


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