Playing around with Google's Ngram viewer, where you can see how many times a word is used in books, I stumbled on this:

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It shows how often universe and Universe have been used in books.

I think it's somewhat interesting that around 1630 the use of these terms took off, and at 1750 there was a switch.

Anyone hazard any guesses to what happened around those years that caused the trends?

EDIT: It looks like the 1750 capitalization issue is more about the search data because the same phenomenon occurs for lots of terms. So maybe just what inspired the use of the word to take off around 1630.

  • 5
    To answer your original question, a previous question on ELU (english.stackexchange.com/questions/10522/…) discusses the prevalence of noun capitalization around the 1700s. As you noted in your edit, the trend was not limited to the word "Universe".
    – AlannaRose
    Oct 8, 2014 at 4:11
  • 1
    NPR has an interesting blog post npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/02/19/172391249/… on a modern distinction between "Universe" and "universe": Universe referring to the known universe, and universe referring to the general idea of a universe or to the unknown universe.
    – AlannaRose
    Oct 8, 2014 at 4:17
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    Never begin your research with nGrams, use it to support and strengthen at the end-stage instead.
    – Kris
    Oct 8, 2014 at 5:45
  • Maybe relevant is that the increase in use started a few decades after Galileo started using telescopes for astronomy (around 1610). The increased use may come from more and more scientists taking up astronomy and writing about the universe.
    – Barmar
    Oct 13, 2014 at 18:08
  • I am not particularly sure, but could this also be related to the fact that we at some point started to talk about miltiple universes? Parallel universes? This would require research. In addition I do not know at which point the english language stopped capitalising common nouns (i.e. in germany you still capitalise every noun. Even shoe. this thread deals with general capitalisation around 1700 link) Jan 21, 2015 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


Perhaps it is just due to the popularisation of science? It makes sense that in the latter years of modern history, more and more people would become familiar with words such as universe due to widespread discussion of extraterrestrial physics and science fiction or due to their learning about scientific theories relating to the universe such as the Big Bang. Capitalisation is often used to denote specialist terminology, and so as the term universe became a word of more and more common usage, its capitalisation was gradually dropped. This is just my theory, however I believe it may have some grounding.

  • In this answer, Big Bang is used, but Universe isn't. I agree with the reasoning by Universe Or universe? It All Depends On The Multiverse. We know the Universe as we understand it started with the Big Bang, not just a "big bang." We can talk about "the known universe" only as far as the speed of light can carry information to us. And we have scientists getting philosophical, theorizing a multiverse in which our universe is one of a vast number, even infinite. I don't think Multiverse deserves to be a proper noun because the concept is vague and unscientific.
    – tbc0
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:53

Hazarding an educated guess here, but if your data isn't lying for some reason, then it might be because of Samuel Johnson's influence. His dictionary was published in 1755 and although he doesn't have an entry on the word, he consistently uses the lower case in other entries where the word is part of a definition.

Search in Digital Edition.


Also perhaps, religion played a part in that peak. People started to think that everything around them, including the stars, the universe, the planets, may have been created by God, and therefore also needed to be capitalized??? Just a thought...

  • Do you have any real evidence for this suggestion? Were other words capitalised for religious reasons? Nov 3, 2014 at 3:39
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    they started to think that ... in the 1700s? you're only leaving out a few thousand years of recorded history.
    – user428517
    Dec 22, 2014 at 22:28

According to the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences,from 1750,the universe is a common noun,naming the idea,not specific in a way The Universe,described as"nom collectif",i guess,of the world and all stars of the sky above.

My impression,is that the interess for the physical view of the Universe grow old in the years of the french revolution and remain stabil in that direction "looking at the sky in same way"

While the Age of Enlightment caused them to try thinking the universe(from the perspective of infinity-wright or wrong) It was as fashion more appealling,since it involved religious points of view,while the religion herself started to decay

I could be wrong.The distinction could be a pure gramatical view

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