With election season behind and the holiday season upon us, wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine the two? Stay with me on this one… What if you could have a popularity contest for holiday terms? An objective face-off to determine which word is most popular. Wouldn’t it be convenient if there was a tool to scour fifteen million books and determine how often a given word has been mentioned over time? As it so happens, we’re in luck! Google labs has released such a tool: the Ngram Viewer and I’ve taken it for a test-run. For grins and giggles, several seasonal terms were pitted in a head-to-head popularity battle. The first experiment was to pit the word donut against several major holiday terms. I was initially shocked when I incorrectly concluded the word “donut” was more popular than other holiday terms (I was using lower-case for terms normally capitalized –and capitalization matters to this tool).
Obviously, this initial comparison was fundamentally flawed. A better frame-of-reference would be other holiday foods. Armed with this insight, I put some traditional Christmas season foods to the test, alongside two alternative spellings for the word donut. It turns-out donuts (regardless of spelling) are more popular in literature than eggnog, fruitcake and candy canes; and their recent popularity has grown much faster than that of holiday foods. At the end of the day, when it comes to food, the only popularity contest that really matters is the one your taste buds hold every time take a bite.
Today, my desk is vacant and I will have to vicariously enjoy Kelly Becker’s debut as donut girl through you. So, come on down and, once you’ve had your fill, do tell me which donut is your favorite.
P.S. A big “thank you” goes to Bill Long for discovering the Google Ngram Viewer.