Fun with the Google Ngrams Function

Intrigued by Gerard Magliocca’s recent post on the popularization of the phrase “The Bill of Rights,” I went over to Google’s Ngrams function to see how often certain legal phrases have appeared in the Google library of digitized texts. Candidly, I don’t know how seriously to take the results of the searches I ran–I haven’t spent much time looking at what’s contained within the database, how accurate Google’s OCR scanning is, etc.–but with that caveat, I thought I would share the results here.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Google’s Ngram function, it permits one to run a date-specific search of Google’s digitized library of millions of books and other written works, to see how commonly particular words or phrases appear within works published during a particular year, or span of years. When one enters a search term and a date or date range, an Ngram line chart will appear that reflects the year-by-year percentage of library materials that contain the word or phrase.

For example, in response to Gerard’s query, here is a chart that reflects usage of the phrase “Bill of Rights” in works published between 1750 and 2000. For whatever reason, use of the phrase appears to have spiked upward in 1768 (though I confess I don’t know what the numerator and denominator are, here; it could be that this “spike” reflects but a single use of the term), and nudged upward again as the War of 1812 approached. After dying down for a while, use of the phrase swelled a little around the Civil War, dropped off again, then zoomed upward in the late 1930s and the 1940s. 

Next, here is a chart that depicts the frequency with which the phrases “First Amendment,” “Fourth Amendment,” “Fifth Amendment,” “Sixth Amendment,” “Thirteenth Amendment,” and “Fourteenth Amendment” appear within the library. Unsurprisingly, for all but the phrase, “Thirteenth Amendment,” the frequency of these references has been on a fifty-year upswing. “Fourteenth Amendment” appeared by far the most frequently in materials published during the first half of the Twentieth Century, but was overtaken by “First Amendment” in 1970.

A few other charts:

substantive due process

civil liberties, civil rights


runaway jury, ambulance chaser, tort reform (1900 to 2000 only)

strict liability, negligence (1900 to 2000 only)

criminal conversation, breach of promise to marry, alienation of affection, alienation of affections (1850 to 2000)

Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School, Chicago Law School (1850 to 2000)

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