Thursday, 28 February 2013

Terrorist, rebel, resistance: N-Gram results

As you can see, putting the terms 'terrorist', 'rebel' and 'resistance' into the N-Gram Viewer yields some interesting (although not unexpected) results. Obviously, 'rebel' and 'resistance' may be used in more metaphorical ways than 'terrorist', and so have appear much more often in the results, but the trends in their use and the very clear peaks reflect world events and, presumably, the opinions of people writing in English at the time. The term 'rebel', peaking around the time of the Taiping rebellion (which had little effect on english-speakers), is quite non-committal, reflecting the lack of vested interest of the writers in the events at the time. The term 'resistance', however, is more biased towards the party which is doing the 'resisting' - predictably, this shows a drop during the 1920s but then a sharp rise in the 1930s, peaking during the Second World War.

Finally, the word 'terrorist', a word which has come into vogue more recently, is heavily weighted against the party which goes against the 'norm'. A sudden rise is seen during the late 1970s, which is maintained through the 1980s before dropping back to a more gentle curve. As extreme rebellions have had a greater domestic impact on English speaking writers, the term has come to be used more often. It is also interesting to note that the other two terms have started to slowly diminish in use, in spite of not being particularly archaic.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting; does the rise of 'rebel' not also coincide with the American civil war, where the Confederacy was referred to (or referred to themselves) as 'rebels'? That might have been more relevant in the English speaking world (which also includes the USA).

    Also, don't forget that there is a time lag, as these are books, which would presumably be published a few years after any events.

    And, it's a shame there is no newer data available, as I would guess that 'terrorist' nowadays eclipses both other terms. I would also assume that its use in the 1970s/1980s is due to continental European terrorism, (RAF in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy), whereas nowadays it refers to mainly anti-Western terrorism originating from 'outside'.

    A further point with 'resistance' is of course that it has more meanings than just the political resistance against a regime; that would obscure the direct comparison of these three terms, and again shows why looking at single words is problematic. Google n-grams would be far more valuable if it could distinguish between different senses of words. This is a hard problem, but not impossible to achieve, and I think in a decade or two we will be able to do this properly.


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