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I was messing around on Google Books Ngram Viewer, and I saw a huge surge in uses of the word "definitely" around the 1930s.

Google Books Ngram Viewer

Does anyone know or have a guess on why this could be?

(And also, does anyone know how accurate Google Ngram is as well?)

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  • I don't have an answer, but it seems the rise of "definite" and "definitely" came at the expense of "absolute" and "absolutely"
    – philshem
    Feb 10, 2014 at 21:57
  • Ngrams is a record only of written usage. Feb 10, 2014 at 21:58
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    What was going on in the 1930s? Economic depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, advances in and concomitant disasters in aviation....Was the rise of 'definite' perhaps something to do with an age of uncertainty, worries about the future? People didn't want vagueness, they wanted 'definite' prospects. Just a wild and speculative flight of fancy perhaps, but there must be a reason for it.
    – WS2
    Feb 10, 2014 at 22:27
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    I don't see that changing absolutely to definitely is either a repudiation of vagueness, or an embrace of it. They seem about the same place on the scale.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 10, 2014 at 23:03
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    When you widen your search to "definitely,absolutely,completely,totally,certainly,simply,utterly,perfectly,entirely,wholly,categorically" you see exactly what @FumbleFingers is talking about: the rise and fall of trendy synonyms. Right now the big winner is "simply".
    – MetaEd
    Feb 12, 2014 at 0:47

2 Answers 2

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See Google Ngram viewer for this chart.

Look at the prompt you see when you restrict the time from 1900 to 1950 and apply 0 smoothing. "Search for "definitely" yielded only one result." It is obvious that the data considered here is too small to infer anything.

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  • Via Anonymous user: "Ngram often says ‘yielded only one result’ and then when you search the database there are hundreds of hits. It's probably a software bug. A better way to gauge accuracy is to set smoothing to 0 and then looking at how jumpy the graph is. In this case the graph is very smooth and more of an indication that "definitely" was definitely trendy at the time." Thank you for your input! Oct 12, 2014 at 4:01
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This happened to me a while ago with the word "bowl". I would link to the question, but it was deleted. It could be a cultural thing, but many were quick to tell me that it likely due to a single book that required the word to be used repeatedly.

Try adding the word king and you'll see how little 0.003% spike is in context.

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