Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Google Ngram Viewer and women's basketball

You might wonder what the graph above represents.  This is actually the result of something called the "Google Ngram Viewer", which can be found here.  Google explains what the Ngram Viewer does thusly:

When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., "British English", "English Fiction", "French") over the selected years.

I then selected the phrase "women's basketball" and asked Google to check all English books and determine how frequently this phrase occurred in books between the years 1892 (when basketball was invented) and 2008, the maximum years allowed in searching.

So why is the graph shaped the way it is?  I suspect the big bump occurring after 1970 has a lot to do with Title IX, when women's basketball began to receive financial support. 

It's hard to tell from the distorted graph, but there's another leap between 1978 and 1980, the years of the first women's pro basketball league, the WBL.

The graph peaks in 1985, and then begins to drop between the years 1985-90 and begins to skyrocket up, peaking in 1998.  So it looks like a peak in women's basketball - or at least a peak in the popularity of the term "women's basketball" - predated the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the famous Dream team.

However, the peak begins to fade starting in 1999.  It keeps dropping until 2006, and then it starts to rise again.  I have no theory that explains that phenomenon.  Economic contraction?  An increase in conservatism coinciding with the Iraq War?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But I am glad that the graph has started an upturn.  Unfortunately, we don't know what's going on after 2008, when the graph stops. 

Does any of this prove anything?  No. But it is interesting to look at!

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