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  • When f-bombs went mainstream, who talks about terrorism, and other surprising cultural insights from big data

    The Washington Post - 09/18/2014

    We tend to think of popular culture as an amorphous, unquantifiable thing — the stuff of critics and marketers and tenuous trend pieces. But thanks to the work of academics like Northeastern University history professor Benjamin Scmidt, who applies computer science and digital techniques to the humanities, we actually have far more objective, data-based insight into our cultural output than we’ve ever had before.

    Case in point? Schmidt can tell you, with almost uncanny accuracy, exactly when f-bombs became okay on the big and small screens (the early 1970s, basically). He also knows when English-speakers subbed the phrase “need to” for the very prim-sounding “ought to” (1982). And when director Woody Allen abandoned themes of sex and death for money in his films (circa 1979).

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