Google Ngram tool charts the rise and fall of the phrase "Now more than ever"
We’re in the midst of a devastating pandemic, raging wildfires, divided electorate and rising social unrest. It’s no wonder people are uttering the colloquialism now more than ever, well, more than ever. Or so it seems.
But just how much more? To arrive at an answer, Google charted the now more than ever phrase using the Ngram viewer, a tool within Google Books that shows how books and other pieces of literature have used certain words or phrases over time.
Though the Ngram tool was created in 2009, it was only updated last year when Google added about 19 million books to a dataset that now numbers around 28 million.
“For the English language corpus, that adds trillions of words,” noted Google engineer Michael Ballbach in a blog post. “For context, that’s roughly the equivalent of three million copies of “War and Peace!”
As the chart above shows, for all the times the now more than ever phrase is surfacing nowadays, it turns out there have been other spikes: in the early 1940s, around 1915-1920 and in 1866. Ballbach added that between 1805-1809 the phrase appeared almost as often as it does today, though usage peaked in the “banner year of 1752.”
The Ngram team at Google doesn’t investigate the causes behind the booms and busts in the use of various words and phrases. And those employing the tool won’t necessarily hit on the origin of such colloquialisms either. The database is confined to the written source material, rather than the spoken use of the language, and is limited in some cases by the quality of optical character recognition.
Nevertheless the Ngram viewer is a potentially valuable tool for research scholars, academics, historians, writers, copy editors, trivia buffs and people who are just plain curious about language or exploring cultural trends. You sometimes see Ngram references on Twitter.
As for the rise of now more than ever during the aforementioned periods, Ballbach mentioned the major world events happening at the time.
“I imagine in the 1940s, World War II changed everything people had thought about their world. 1915-1920 was marked by World War I—and of course, the influenza pandemic of 1918. In 1866, the United States was emerging from civil war. 1805 to 1809 was a heady time for the young U.S. government.”
Incidentally, now more than ever usage was relatively uncommon between 1955 to 1996, before climbing steeply up through the latter part of the 20th Century to the early aughts to where we are today.
You can enter your own words and phrases into the Ngram viewer. Each word being searched is a “gram” that the tool searches across its database.
that now more than ever is a phrase with four grams. Misspellings won't be detected or corrected as in many a regular Google search queries, but you can enter wildcard searches by placing an * in front of a word, as in a query like "University of *."
Other Ngram search tips can be found here.
“Maybe you, like me, may find some comfort in knowing that this moment in time—as unprecedented, challenging and uncertain as it may be—is not the only one in which everything is now more than ever,” Ballbach blogged
Indeed, think about some of the optimistic phrases you might want to chart with Ngrams: this too may pass, sliver lining, light at the end of the tunnel.