Monday, February 21, 2011

Let Google Pick Your Job Title

Don’t say you’re self-employed.
Not because it isn’t true. For folks who own their own firm, that certainly is the case. It’s just that, to put it bluntly, “self-employed” is not a sexy descriptor. It’s not in fashion at the moment – and, for that matter, never really was.

I learned this by playing with the Google Books Ngram Viewer, a tool based off  the volumes of literature in Google Books’ database. Type in a word – any word – and it will tell you the frequency with which that word was used between the years 1500 and 2008. (The datasets were generated in July 2009, but Google promises that it will update as its book-scanning project continues.)

My fellow wordsmith colleagues and I got a bit giddy tracking the evolution of certain words and phrases over the centuries. We can infer why the popularity of certain vocabulary peaks and troughs based on the era, even though we don’t have a key to tell us if we are right. The historical insight into the vernacular reveals, however unscientifically, when the hype starts and ends.

When we make comparisons by separating each word or phrase with a comma, we get clues as to when words came into style and how important they became, relatively speaking. (Try, for instance,  ”alien attack, computer attack, terrorist attack.”) And we can see when one word fell out of favor in place of others (“carriage, car”).

So, naturally, we tried three words that we use on a regular basis: “entrepreneur,” “small business” and “self-employed.”

The clear winner was “entrepreneur.” Popularity seems to have decreased in recent years (triggered by the burst tech bubble, perhaps?) but still remains the most prevalent by a long shot. “Small business” was second. “Self-employed” languished in third place, with few historical blips to speak of.

Read The Rest Of The WSJ Article

1 comment:

  1. Great insight! Thanks for sharing. Tweeting this one.

    -Jim Stroud