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Prompted by the questions about "despite"/"in spite of" on ELL and EL&U I played in N-gram for in spite of, despite even though, although, however.

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After 1750 there is a sharp rise in most of them. Did the general language change to start including negative clauses or did some word fall out of favor to increase popularity of all the rest?

I tried comparing the chart with "but" but despite the steady decline, it didn't register any sharp drops between 1730 and 1800. So what expression was in popular use in the role of these conjunctions, that they replaced?

(footnote: The graph for "However" may be wrong; Ngram refuses to acknowledge "However" can be a conjunction; (however_CONJ) yields a flat zero; so does (however - however_ADJ))

  • They were in use well before 1.750. However: (adv., conj.) is from late 14c., from how + ever.etymonline.com/index.php?term=however. Although: is from early 14c., althagh, compound of all + though, showing once-common emphatic use of all.etymonline.com/… – user66974 Sep 11 '15 at 9:33
  • @Josh61: So they functioned for 400 years before at some point of 18c they began rapidly gaining popularity; although almost quadrupled , however reaching 5x the original over a 100 years period. – SF. Sep 11 '15 at 9:40
  • @Josh61: Ngram is normalized over the number of books published in given year, so the number of books doesn't change the profile. Literacy might - but then what kinds of words/constructs were replaced? – SF. Sep 11 '15 at 9:45
  • I'm not sure I understand what you are looking for, however was used before 1.750, why are you assunimg it replaced a similar expression? – user66974 Sep 11 '15 at 9:48
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    @Josh61: It was used LESS. Across the language, without some kind of revolutionary social changes that affect the way people think, the percentage of words fulfilling given function - like conjunctions expressing contrast - remains relatively similar over the time, even if proportions between different words of that function change. So unless in 1750 people suddenly began contrasting things far more often than before, the total usage of all these conjunctions should be roughly the same; rise of one means decline of other. – SF. Sep 11 '15 at 11:24
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Adding the word "yet" in seems to show a fairly large decline in its usage - could this be the word you're looking for?

1

It's not exactly a synonym, but notwithstanding seems to have been on the wane since the early 18th Century, just as 'however' was taking off.

  • It could have contributed, but the volume by which it declined is disproportionally small comparing to the volume "However" grew by. – SF. Sep 13 '15 at 22:56
  • @SF. you're putting a lot of faith in Ngram and the results it provides. How many books were catalogued before 1850 and how accurate was the OCR they used? – michael_timofeev Sep 14 '15 at 1:02
  • @michael_timofeev The OCR would be just as inaccurate for the word with positive trend as for the one with negative; the biases would cancel each other out. 1750's ngram is composed of 105214 pages; 19mln words for that year alone. That's 15,000 occurrences of "yet" and 2000 occurrences of "However". Plenty enough for statistically valid results. – SF. Sep 14 '15 at 8:37

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