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New Google app could transform Canadian politics

A new Google application has drawn the attention of Canada's twittering classes, and could force Canadian politicians to change their rhetoric.

Google Books Ngram Viewer enables users to follow the frequency of words and phrases in books from 1600 to 2008, in several variations of English and other languages including Chinese, Russian, and French.

For example, Canadians could track the appearance of the terms NDP,Liberal,Conservative,Green Party from 1980 to 2008. No party will have much reason to rejoice. Comparing progressive,conservative from 1990 to 2008 shows a similarly discouraging downward trend for both terms.

Since politicians seem to use the same expressions over and over, Ngram shows that "going forward" is far more popular than "let me be clear," "been very clear," and "let me say this." "Ordinary Canadians" has been going downhill since 1995.

Canadian journalists, with little to do after the adjournment of Parliament, have been tweeting their own explorations of this new toy. Andrew Coyne, for example, has tracked Prime Minister Stephen Harper's verbal tics. Doug Saunders has found that "gay" and "homosexual" are both in decline, but "gay" has been the predominant term for the last 30 years.

The new hashtag #ngrams offers a growing range of explorations, such as the relative frequency of various swear words. A detailed explanation of how to use Ngrams is available here.

Checking the term Tyee from 2003 to 2008 shows a gratifying increase, especially from 2006 to 2008.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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