Has anybody been having fun looking words and concepts up on the Google Ngram Viewer? The latest addition to the growing arsenal of quantitative research tools for the humanities aims to study the evolution of words, concepts, etc in culture, like those real scientists do in biology etc.

As interesting as the idea is, one can immediately spot some inherent faults in the system…

This is my search for the word internet. Surpsisingly, it shows some use of the word around the 1900 mark. Looking at the results in the 1800-1905 bracket, we find this page. Now, as the software scans pdfs of some really old books documents the characters it looks for are occasionally distorted or slightly different. One of the results bears the title THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE AND HIFTORICAL CHRONICLE – Page 466 and dates from 1806. It would have been very interesting to find a mention of the word internet in a document dating from 1806, so I clicked on the link, only to find out that the text made reference to a Captain Infernet, the writer possibly using the letter -f in the place of an -s as he does elsewhere in the text.

The next result is from the Journal of the Chemical Society, Volume 65, dating from 1894. The highlighted word here reads interact, not internet, but the -a and -c might look a bit like an -n and -e, respectively. And so it goes…

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