I chose to look up the words anxiety and depression for this assignment. I found it interesting that the OED’s entries regarding the psychiatric connotations of the words came from relatively the same time period:
The OED marks the first mentions of depression and anxiety in the psychiatric sense in 1905 and 1909, respectively–years when the work of Sigmund Freud was becoming most prominent.
This is the Google Ngram comparison of the words. I was expecting the words to strongly correlate and to be on the rise in the recent decades. Here’s what it came up with:
Not surprisingly, depression spikes in 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. I was surprised that anxiety was used pretty often in the 19th century in comparison to recently. And my suspicions that anxiety and depression would be on the rise and correlate in recent years were confirmed.
My father is a family physician and has been noticing a rise in disorders associated with anxiety and depression in his practice. He has seen a significant increase in children being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD in recent years, and has read many medical articles that suggest that this disorder is probably a manifestation of anxiety and/or depression. Several medications for anxiety and depression have been developed and prescribed in recent decades. It is very apparent by our culture that anxiety and depression are forces to be reckoned with, and it is neat to see this reflected in the Ngram.
I think that the Oxford English Dictionary and the Google Ngram viewer are great tools for historical research and word comparisons. While the Ngram has the disadvantage of misreading the connotations of the words you are trying to compare, the OED can almost counteract this by giving us the dates that correspond to the type of word usage we are looking for.
Beyond giving us a glimpse into history, I’m not sure what else the Ngram could be useful for. I look forward to reading what everyone’s opinion on this is!