|A chart of the percentage occurrence of the words "art", "design" and "science" from 1810 to 2000. See it live here.|
Something fifhy going on
All visualisations depend on the quality of the underlying data and this is where this tool falls down.
I thought I would check for occurrences of a word which is unlikely to be much affected by fashion, from 1700 to 2000: I tried "fish". This produced some highly suspect results with very low occurrences before 1800 and a dramatic rise at that time:
|A chart of the percentage occurrence of the word "fish" from 1700 to 2000. See it live here.|
And then I realised what is going on.
Google have not corrected the long-tailed s's which the scanning software thinks are f's. If you chart the nonexistent word "fifh" you find a steady climb which dramatically drops during 1780-1800 when the long s was replaced by the one we use now. Charting "fish,fifh" shows both. Together they make a more sensible picture:
|A chart of the percentage occurrence of the word "fish" and "fifh" from 1700 to 2000. See it live here.|
This is idleness on Google's part and undermines the usefulness of the tool. I am sure it would be perfectly possible to make their Optical Character Recognition software tell the difference between a long-tailed s and an f, since they are not the same glyph:
|Different glyphs for f and long s. From Joseph Priestley, 1764, A Description of a Chart of Biography on Google Books.|
A tool to use with care, indeed suspicion.