data dump

When Did Authors Start Swapping In ‘Gay’ For ‘Homosexual’? Google Knows!

Dumping the contents, word for word, of some five million books into a massive searchable database, Google has unleashed something that’s akin to Google Trends — for the historical written word. All five hundred billion of them. The search giant’s Books Ngram Viewer lets you see how often certain words appeared over the course of history. Naturally, we wanted to check up on the fags.

As you can see, authors were mentioning “homosexuals” almost not at all as recently as the 1800s, but usage began to take off around 1900. Meanwhile, “gay” was likely used for its original purpose: to mean “happy,” which is why it enjoys historical prominence. That is until the 1980s, when that spike is due to (I can only guess) the LGBT movement gaining visibility, and more being written about us. (This is just my loose theory.)

We see a somewhat similar trend in “lesbian” vs. “dyke,” although the latter word, while used with some regularity, never took off the way “lesbian” did. Again, that word starts soaring in the 80s.

And then there’s “fag,” “faggot,” and “queer.” The first two register in small numbers, especially next to “queer” — a word that, like “gay,” was likely used in place of words like “weird” and “different.” I’m not sure how to explain the sudden drop beginning in the 1930s. Can you?

Here’s more about Google’s project, which includes a note that the data is normalized/weighted to account for the increase in the number of books published per year as time moved forward.