The media tends to interpret culture in yearly cycles. Critics publish end-of-year best-of lists and Oxford Dictionaries just selected “post-truth” as its word of the year. But the words we use actually seem to operate on a 14-year cycle, an analysis has found.
Marcelo Montemurro at the University of Manchester, UK, and Damián Zanette at Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research identified 5630 commonly used nouns and analysed how their popularity changed over the last three centuries.
To do this, they wrote computer scripts to dig through Google Ngram, a database of the words used in nearly five million digitised books. They then ranked the nouns in order of popularity and tracked how their rankings changed from 1700 to 2008.
A curious pattern emerged. They found that English words rose in popularity and then fell out of favour in cycles of about 14 years, although cycles over the past century have tended to be a year or two longer. They also found evidence of cycles of this length in French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. The popularity of related nouns – such as king, queen and duchess – tended to rise and fall together over time.
Read more: New Scientist