I just discovered Google Labs' Books Ngram Viewer
. It presents a fascinating view into the words and phrases occurring in a corpus of scanned books, showing how their usage frequencies have evolved over time and displaying the results graphically. Try, for example, this query
comparing references to different communications media. I thought it was illuminating to include both "telephone" and "phone" there; while both terms persist and describe the same thing, use of the shorter one accelerated sharply as of the 1960s.
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