Experiments in Ngram Art


Google Ngram Viewer is a tool that allows users to search for a word or phrase in Google’s vast collection of digitized books and graph the results.

This graph shows the use of words for various technologies over time. Telegraph had its modest moment in the early 20th century. Telephone started its rise right after it had its first major public demonstration in 1876. Television had a steep increase mid-century, but was quite outdone by the sharp leap taken by computer in the second half of the century.

A lot of what you find exploring Ngram is pretty obvious. Here, a search on the word war shows major peaks in its usage during both world wars.

But you can also discover patterns that aren’t so obvious. Milk, sugar, meat, butter, flour, and cigarettes also had peaks during the world wars. In retrospect, this might seem obvious—it probably has to do with the rationing and shortages associated with wartime—but interesting to see it so clearly outlined on the basis of word use alone.

It’s important to be aware of scaling when comparing words on Ngram. The y-axis shows percentages over all the words in the Google Books corpus. Sex went from .004 percent of words in 1960 to .007 percent in the year 2000. Its rise is paralleled over the same period with that for drugs. But it appears there isn’t much to say about rock and roll.

Not so! Rock and roll had its own meteoric rise, just on a much smaller scale, percentage-wise. By 2000, it had gone from 0 to .00008 percent of all three-word chunks. (The “n” in “Ngram” refers to the number of sequential units considered as a chunk. Single words are 1-grams, two word phrases are 2-grams, three word phrases are 3-grams…). It's hard to see that when it has to share the stage with relative giants like sex and drugs.


Ngram art is something I discovered through hours of playing with Ngram. I use Ngram frequently to answer questions or satisfy my curiosity about linguistic change. Sometimes I get sucked into a zone where I’m just throwing random words and phrases at it to see what happens. One late night, I noticed that in the graph for high and low, the image matched the meaning of the words. On the graph, high was high and low was low.

Soon I was chasing those moments of serendipity down, trying to choose the right words to make line images that would relate back their meanings. It wasn’t as easy as it looks. Words are strange creatures that do not necessarily behave as you would expect when graphed over time. Still, I discovered it was possible, in a crude way, to draw with data. Here is the resulting small gallery of Ngram art.

If you’d like to try your hand at Ngram art visit the Ngram Viewer. If you’d like to know more about how Ngram works and what its results mean see this TED talk by the creators Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden. For information on some of the more complex searches you can do, see this Atlantic article by Ben Zimmer.

Afternoon Map
The Most Searched Shows on Netflix in 2017, By State

Orange is the New Black is the new black, at least as far as Netflix viewers are concerned. The women-in-prison dramedy may have premiered in 2013, but it’s still got viewers hooked. Just as they did in 2017, took a deep dive into Netflix analytics using Google Trends to find out which shows people in each state were searching Netflix for throughout the year. While there was a little bit of crossover between 2016 and 2017, new series like American Vandal and Mindhunter gave viewers a host of new content. But that didn’t stop Orange is the New Black from dominating the map; it was the most searched show in 15 states.

Coming in at a faraway second place was American Vandal, a new true crime satire that captured the attention of five states (Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). Even more impressive is the fact that the series premiered in mid-September, meaning that it found a large and rabid audience in a very short amount of time.

Folks in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon were all destined to be disappointed; Star Trek: Discovery was the most searched-for series in each of these states, but it’s not yet available on Netflix in America (you’ve got to get CBS All Access for that, folks). Fourteen states broke the mold a bit with shows that were unique to their state only; this included Big Mouth in Delaware, The Keepers in Maryland, The OA in Pennsylvania, GLOW in Rhode Island, and Black Mirror in Hawaii.

Check out the map above to see if your favorite Netflix binge-watch matches up with your neighbors'. For more detailed findings, visit

Afternoon Map
Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

[h/t Thrillist]


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