I discovered this by watching a very funny TED Talk titled What We Learned from 5 Million Books. I loved their presentation, but if you don’t want to watch it, that’s fine. You can still enjoy checking Google’s Ngram Viewer.
The Ngram Viewer is a repository of the data collected from Google’s project to digitize books. They don’t release full text of the books that have been scanned because of copyright laws, but they do allow you to keyword search within that data to access cultural trends in word use.
When you load the site it will have an example search setup for you to check out: Albert Einstein,Sherlock Holmes,Frankenstein. I suggest clicking the Search Lots of Books button and seeing for yourself how that data shows up.
From the results you can analyze what cultural relevance the keywords had over the time period searched.
To setup your own search, you can either search for an individual word, or you can search for several words at the same time using commas between them. Beneath the search field you’ll find ways to restrict your search. You can change the dates, pick the corpus you search within, and even the amount of smoothing on the graph lines.
I thought this was such a fun way to play with language. Go check it out for yourself today!