What 74 Years of Crossword History Says About the Language We Use

Educated Americans consider themselves a cosmopolitan bunch. We follow the conflict in Ukraine between Donetsk and Kiev, and can probably point to them on a map. We enjoy bibimbap and paella, which we try to pronounce with an appropriate accent. Some of us can identify the work of Igor Stravinsky, Youssou N’Dour and Ai Weiwei. The rest of us are going to go look them up on Wikipedia now.

But we are more parochial than our grandparents’ generation, according to one indicator: the New York Times crossword puzzle.

With the permission of Will Shortz, the Times’s crossword puzzle editor, I recently downloaded all of the newspaper’s crosswords from February 1942, when the puzzle began, through the end of 2015. I created an algorithm to search all 2,092,375 pairs of clues and answers for foreign language words and place names outside the United States.

The results are imperfect, since the puzzles can be tricky and there is a lot of overlap between English and foreign words. But the broad trend is clear. The puzzle today uses one-third fewer non-English clues and answers than it did at its peak in 1966, and makes two-thirds fewer international references than its peak in 1943.

Read more: NY Times

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