Blog Post 1: “consumption” v. “tuberculosis”

I was interested in observing the chronicle of the terms “consumption” and “tuberculosis” in relation to history of the disease. Tuberculosis is an ancient disease that was named “tuberculosis” in 1839. The first vaccination against it was created in 1906 and began being used in France in 1921. Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 2.01.33 PM

When looking at the Ngram viewer I was not surprised at the results I received due to the fact that “consumption” has multiple meanings.  Also, the spikes in the term “tuberculosis” correspond to its naming as well as its immunization dates.  After clicking on the links to the Google Books for the word “consumption” I gained more perspective on the definition during different time periods. All of the top results listed from 1700-1956 related to the disease while the top results from 1957- present dealt with consumption of food and consumption in the economic sense. This also explains the steady incline of the use of the word consumption into the 21st century.

After doing some more research on the history of the disease I learned that the word “Phthisis”  means “consumption” in Greek and Hippocrates was said to have written about phthisis as being the most deadly disease of his time (460 B.C). Although Ngram does not have a Greek language option I searched the word under English and saw similarities in the spikes on the timeline.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 2.35.50 PM


I think the use of Ngram as a mapping tool is very effective but a lot of outside research was necessary to make real discoveries. By not having Greek as a language option and  not being able to go back in time to 460 B.C in my search it limited my abilities. However, I found it helpful in determining the main uses of the words during different time periods.





Leave a Reply