An anonymous reader writes
"From Ed Yong at the Not Exactly Rocket Science blog: 'Just as petrified fossils tell us about the evolution of life on earth, the words written in books narrate the history of humanity. The words tell a story, not just through the sentences they form, but in how often they occur. Uncovering those tales isn't easy — you'd need to convert books into a digital format so that their text can be analyzed and compared. And you'd need to do that for millions of books. Fortunately, that's exactly what Google have been doing since 2004.' Yong goes on to explain that the astounding record of human culture found in Google Books offers new research paths to social scientists, linguists, and humanities scholars. Some of the early findings (abstract), based on an analysis of 5 million books containing 500 billion words: English is still adding words at a breathtaking pace; grammar is evolving and often becoming more regular; we're forgetting our history more quickly; and celebrities are younger than they used to be. You can also play with the Google Books search tool yourself. For example, here's a neat comparison of how often the words Britannica and Wikipedia have appeared."