How To Use Online Tools To Track When A Phrase Was The 'Fashion Of The Moment'

Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott today mind-bogglingly described the push for marriage equality as a "fashion of the moment", thus equating human rights issues with your choice of shirt colour. That remark sounds decidedly old-fashioned, but we don't have to simply assume that; there are plenty of online tools that can help demonstrate just when a particular phrase was most popular. Let's check out a few.

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For tracking language usage in Australia, the most useful public resource is Trove, which scans Australia newspapers right up until the end of the 1970s (and longer in some caes). Trove requires registration but is free to use. Searching for the phrase "fashion of the moment" finds 2155 results. What's indicative is seeing those results sorted by decade:

We can see usage clearly peaking in the 1910s, dropping sharply in the 1940s and all but disappearing after that.

For an even longer-term view, reader KM points out to me on Twitter that you can use Google's Books Ngram Viewer to search for a phrase. While this isn't Australia-only, it gives you an even bigger corpus of text over a longer period. Here's how the phrase was used in books between 1800 and 2000

This shows almost exactly the same pattern.

For a different and more recent view, we can look on Google Trends, which maps terms people are searching for online. If you look for "fashion of the moment", you discover that this phrase has not been looked for often enough anywhere in the world since 2004 to be meaningfully graphed:

If you're interested in language use and how it changes, or just want to avoid sounding as if you wish the world had never changed since 1940, all these tools are handy to keep in mind.


    So Angus, I guess your either gay or an alp stooge. Utterly gratuitous lead-in. Try and leave your activism to one side and be a professional

      Whereas I guess you're a bigoted troll who can't spell. Actually, that's not a guess.

      Wow, you are as much a dick as Abbott is BigAl. The handle you chose just reinforces it.

    Wouldnt your article have been more useful if you had actually searched for "marriage equality" to see if it really was the fashion of the moment?

    Id agree that I never heard about same sex people wanting to be married to each 20 years ago, but it is certainly a hot topic these days. I think being accepted socially was more an issue, and now that stigma is being broken down, the next logical step may be marriage.

    So whilst the issue may have always been there, its certainly very 'fashionable' to talk about it now.

      Having pointed out the tools, those searches are easy for anyone to do.

        reading between the lines
        "I did that but didn't like the results."

    How does "gay marriage" trend?
    It could be argued [by Coalition spin doctors] that "gay marriage" in 50 years may well be as outdated as "fashion of the moment" is now.
    Hopefully because it has become so common, people take it for granted and assume "marriage" includes gays by default.

    I hate the idea that the election could become a referendum on gay marriage. How about we just have referendum on the issue? But only gay people get to vote because it has nothing to do with anybody else.

    I'd hardly call same-sex marriage a human rights issue - arguably it demeans serious human rights issues

    This is a social issue upon which no lives hang and can quite fairly be called a 'fashionable' topic in my view, it's both relatively recent and is regularly promoted to headline news, despite being a minority issue - I'm all for same sex marriage, if only so the media could worry about slightly more important things

    What was truly disgraceful about this whole episode was Albo's lie that Abbot somehow equated homosexuality to being fashionable

    But still, it got me to click so I guess it worked

    I'm very interested in online tools to understand the history of things. Thanks for the heads up. Be interested in any similar tools if anyone knows of more.

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