Monday, March 17, 2008

The Frequency of Awesomeness

Some awesome independent scholar dude named Ray Cha (bust down those Ivory Tower gates!) has a blog that is most awesomely about technology and policy (check it out, folks), and found my cross-post about Your Daily Awesomeness on Scatterplot.

So awesomely awesome is Ray Cha's awesomeness: the man has empirically assessed the use of "awesomeness" over the last four years. Go there for the graphs. But I will excerpt the analysis!:

Sometimes you learn a word and all of the sudden you see it everywhere. The nagging question is, was is always being used and you just glossed over it, or is there a change in the frequency of its use? You discovered the word precisely because it was starting to be used for more often.

Not too long ago, I found the word “awesomeness” entering my general vocabulary to signify great approval. Awesomeness feels fresh, a slight tweak on the new vintage “awesome” from the 80s, a personally influential era. However, in the past week, I’ve seen the word Awesomeness appear in a lot of places, from friends and strangers alike. I started thinking if the word has gaining traction in the public at large, so last weekend I started the quest to figure out ways to capture the growing use of the word.

Word frequency counts is nothing new. Media studies have been doing this type of research in newspaper and magazines for decades. However, it is becoming much more democratic, mostly because of the decreasing cost of computing and the related increase span of the web, which has been collecting data much easier. I decided to use the blogosphere because it seems like a pretty good proxy for general language usage.

Just looking at the words appearance in the past two full months, this is what I found:February-2008: Awesomeness: 17,182 ; Awesome: 736,783 ; Are: 61,531,049January-2008: Awesomeness: 9,627 ; Awesome: 429,769; Are [BL: control word]: 57,214,958

There is clear jump in the past two months, but what does that jump mean, if the total number of blog pages continues to grow? Both Awesomeness and Awesome almost doubled as compared to Are, but how do you measure the significance of that? Graphing all the frequency of these three words against each other is hard because are orders of magnitude higher then the others.

I fed the curves into excel to fit linear functions, and can see that Awesomeness has a slope of 0.0003 versus Awesome which has a slope of 0.0001. This is good, because it means Awesomeness is being used at rate that is 3 time more than Awesome. However, Are (our base line) has a slope of 0.001. This is sort of bad, because 80s slang doesn’t seem to be outpacing the general growth of blogs, which I was hoping to see.

I’m not sure what to make of it, in the end. However, it does have me thinking about blogs from a higher altitude and that math is pretty awesome.

My high school friends will tell you that I have been affixing -ness indiscriminately (coolness, as a nickname suffix akin to -arino like "Dudearino"), such is the greatness of my loserly geekitude. (-itude is also another favorite suffix). I do not use prefixes as often for whatever reason. But I was using '80s slang back in the early '90s, when it was too early to be nostalgic. This was before Grosse Pointe Blank, people.

It wasn't even my awesomeness in the post, but I did describe it as "awesome" and affixed the suffix -ness to denote that it was aggregate, adjectival awesome, as opposed to the adverbial awesomely, or the singular, more focused "awesome." I don't think of awesomeness as being orders of magnitude greater than awesome, but I do think of it as either 1) an inherent property of the thing rather than an adjective externally imposed on the thing as judgment, or 2) aggregate awesome, that yes, one of these things is awesome, and the other thing is awesome, and together their awesomeness knows no bounds. See also, the more meek and banal "great."

I wouldn't call "awesomeness" a rediscovered slang word like "righteous" (that hasn't made a comeback? damn!), but if it's growth is as empirically demonstrated, then perhaps it will spread as infectiously as "teh" or "meh" or "w00t," last year's entry into the OED. Then I will have done my good deed of the day. Internet speak is lame. I would rather use '80s slang, like "hot stuff!"


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