A Literary Graph of Murder

What does this graph tell us? It’s meant to show the frequency of the terms murder and homicide in English books from the time of ‘Jack the Ripper’ to the present day.

The answer is probably ‘not much’ – apart from showing that murder is used much more often (in those books that have been scanned by Google) than homicide. Murder also spiked in use at around 1931, which may or may not be related to the output of Agatha Christie and others at that time.

But Google’s Books Ngram Viewer is still an interesting ‘visualisation tool’ which allows anyone to input words or phrases to create their own graph. You can also click different time periods to see which books make up the data.

Examples already doing the rounds include ‘love vs war’ or ‘geek vs nerd’.

Here’s what happens when you type in ‘Jack the Ripper.’

Just to prove it isn’t entirely accurate, closer inspection shows the first blip clocks in at 1883. It turns out these entries result from cataloging based on the founding date of the organisation producing the material or scanning errors caused by ‘OCR’ (Optical Character Recognition).

The database also reveals that in 1894 a bull named Jack the Ripper was listed in the Ayrshire Cattle Herd Book Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

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