Being a word person in a class about numbers can leave you ready to scream.
At the start of the summer I took a five-week, online course in data journalism sponsored by the European Journalism Centre. The class drew 21,000 participants from places as far afield as Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Some of the video lectures on, say, creating pivot tables in Excel took longer to absorb than their roughly 15-minute length, what with all the stopping and starting I had to do as I tried out all the steps. But I was feeling pretty good about myself. I felt like I was mastering the concepts and making headway.
Then I got to the quizzes. I’d swear that at least one of the questions used terminology that wasn’t covered in the lesson. Another series of questions depended on my ability to translate Apple instructions into PC – where in the heck was I supposed to find “% of row” and didn’t I really need “% of column” instead? It was hardly a consolation when it appeared that classmates were suffering from the same experience.
After one particularly intense bout trying to figure out the numbers, I posted the following in the discussion area: “As I read the comments above (and reflected on my experience with the quiz), I wondered if different nationalities use another term than “aaaargh!” as an expression of frustration.”
To my surprise, I got a response from John Swain, a British classmate.
if you look at the Google ngram viewer it looks like the term “aaaargh!” was invented in the 1960s and has increased in popularity since.
It does not seem to exist in French, German, Italian or Spanish!
Google’s Ngram Viewer searches books for words and terms, showing their frequence of use. I decided to look for “teenager,” since I often tell my students in 20th Century that the concept of young people as a separate group didn’t exist until recently. Here’s what I found (which I’ve embedded, using code provided by the Ngram site).
The search terms allow for all sorts of possibilities, including comparing various phrases or searching for specific parts of speech, such as tackle as a verb rather than a noun. For more information about how it works, visit https://books.google.com/ngrams/info.