The last couple of weeks of ngrams have shown seemingly contradictory insights. Two weeks ago I observed that we were less likely to talk about our enjoyment, but last week I showed that we are more likely to talk about the kinds of things we typically associate with enjoyment.
This week I explore a couple of other related concepts along these lines.
As always, here’s a link to the first article in this series if you don’t know what Google’s ngram viewer is all about.
So here’s a confusing chart.
What are we to make of this? The first easy observation is that we are less likely to talk about “happy” things. That would seem to align well with the observations from two weeks ago; we are less likely to talk about enjoyment.
However, we are more likely to talk about things like fulfillment, experiences and even hedonism. Even “relax” has seen a slow, but steady, increase over time.
What to make of this seemingly contradictory data? How can we talk less of happiness and enjoyment, but talk more about fine dining, hedonism and experiences? Perhaps this represents more of a change in our language than in any real change in our pursuit of pleasure.
Or, another theory (and these really are just theories) could be that people used to have a fairly unified understand of the general concepts surrounding happiness, delights and enjoyment, but over time our understandings diverged. When our understandings diverged then it became necessary to shift from the words that were commonly used to words that were more specific. Hence we spend less time talking about being happy, for instance, and more time talking about specific forms of happiness – or specific angles we take on the subject of happiness – like hedonism, experiences and fulfillment.
And, of course, fine wine.
Next week I’ll start taking a look at how some of these changes have transitioned over into the church.