What I hope this blog will do

Changing patterns of expression often imply interesting questions about literary or social history. Electronic archives with diachronic scope have made it easier to perceive these questions, and Google’s recent decision to make a very large dataset available has turned that trickle of questions into a flood. It’s not always possible to explain puzzling phenomena at first glance, let alone write them up in a journal article. But it might be useful to record them and share them with other scholars, in the hope that different pieces of a puzzle will make more sense in context.

That’s what I hope to accomplish here. I’m going to record interesting patterns of change as I encounter them, and invite speculation about what they mean. I invite other people to submit observations as well. At first, many of these observations are going to be based on results from Google’s ngram viewer, but I expect that other archives, and other ways of querying them, will play an increasingly important role.

The name of the blog is drawn from a dream described in the fifth book of Wordsworth’s Prelude, where a shell seems to represent poetry, and a stone mathematics — or at any rate, “geometric truth.” Toward the end of the book, Wordsworth observes that

                    Visionary power
Attends upon the motions of the winds
Embodied in the mystery of words;
There darkness makes abode, and all the host
Of shadowy things do work their changes there
As in a mansion like their proper home.

So, there’s a bit of poetry about changes worked through the mystery of words. Now for some math.

By tedunderwood

Ted Underwood is Professor of Information Sciences and English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter he is @Ted_Underwood.

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