It’s all about me – ngrams

A previous ngram suggested that our passion for human rights is stronger in recent times when human rights have apparently been linked to our own sexuality than previously when it was an issue related to the holocaust of World War Two. That made me wonder, have we really become so self-absorbed? Do we really place that much emphasis on ourselves?

If you aren’t familiar with Google’s ngram viewer, take a quick read through my first blog article in this series for an introduction.

Today’s ngram uses another tool they provide; the ability to see how often a word has been used as a noun, as a verb, or as an adjective. We’ll use the last one – adjective – today, and we’ll look at three words; self, individual and personal. How often have these three words been used as descriptors?


What are some examples? Consider the word “personal.” According to the dictionary, the first definition of “personal” is:

of, relating to, or coming as from a particular person; individual;private:

The example provided by the dictionary is the phrase “a personal opinion.” This is, of course, to differentiate one’s “personal” opinion from, for instance, the opinion of a group of people, or some established authority.

Over the past couple of centuries we have increasingly used these three words to qualify and describe the world we live in. An adjective is a descriptor word, so the fact that these words have seen increased usage – as adjectives – means that we are more likely to describe the world in these terms. When we speak, we are more likely – 3X to 4X more likely than 200 years ago – to season our thoughts with “self” focused descriptors.

So it would appear to be the case that we really are more self-focused than we used to be.