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A Short History of Words

New Google tool reveals relative popularity of ‘shmuck,’ ‘Zionist,’ other terms

Dan Klein
December 17, 2010

The name of the hot new time-waster is Google Ngrams! Google has taken the five and a half million digital books in its database (interesting fact: Yiddish was the first literature to be entirely digitalized), and created a tool that graphs the uses of phrases throughout history.

I now know that schlep and schmuck entered the English mainstream in the 40s, but their use increased rapidly in the 60s and 80s, respectively (thanks Lenny Bruce!).Zionist first arose in the 1910s, hit its peak in the 1990s, and is now at a 60 year low. For a bracing reminder, watch the spike of various words for Jew in the 30s and 40s… except for Hebrew, which hit its epoch between 1810 and 1830s, but declined in the 1940s. Why 1810? What happened? I have no idea.

Apparently, this tool is for scholars. In that vein, and in the holiday spirit, above see Marc Weidenbaum’s (of and creator of Tablet’s Anander Mol, Anander Weig Hanukkah remix album) scholarly exploration of the history of the word C/Hanuk/kah.