Magazine article Science News

Mapping Life and Death of Words: Analysis Identifies Lexical Victims of Shifting Influences

Magazine article Science News

Mapping Life and Death of Words: Analysis Identifies Lexical Victims of Shifting Influences

Article excerpt

Within the quiet pages of books, words are battling it out with a competitive fierceness that rivals Wall Street's. New research examining the frequency of words used in books over more than 200 years reveals the rise and demise of various words through time and how social, technological and political change influence language.

An international team of scientists investigated word histories using Google's Ngram project, a database of words in seven languages developed from scanning and digitizing about 4 percent of the world's texts. The researchers mined books printed in English, Spanish and Hebrew published between 1800 and 2008, a corpus of more than 10 million words.

There's a marked increase in the death rate of words that coincides with the modern print era, the researchers found. That trend intensified with the advent of stricter publishing procedures, and later computerized editing and spell-checking technologies, which led to the extinction of various misspelled words or less-popular synonyms.

Incorrect or nonstandard spellings weren't the only cause of word death. Roentgenogram--which comes from Wilhelm R6ntgen, who discovered X-rays-faced competition from radiogram and X-ray, which ultimately triumphed, Joel Tenenbaum reported February 28. …

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