There is a Google search feature which has been around for a while now. At least 3 to 4 years now as far as I am aware. Type the search terms ‘define ’ and you would probably see the meanings for the word and if you were to expand the drop down arrow you will see a graph depicting the mentions of the word over time. It is an interesting feature. For someone interested in word etymologies it would be interesting and thought-provoking as well.
For example consider the word ‘default’. The original usage was largely in the ambit of law and loan repayments. There is a sudden surge in the 1908s. Now it is possible that more number of loans were given across the world and many did not pay the loan on time! It is more likely that word became popular in the computing context where ‘default’ meant a value when nothing is specified in field entry in the screen.
I tried two words and I found something interesting. The result is perhaps obvious, but interesting nonetheless. ‘Homework’ was one of the words and I saw it showing its head perhaps at 1920s. I wondered whether schools started giving homework to students around that time. Or perhaps work at home was beginning to be recognized as an important contributor to the economy may be?
‘Cancer’ was the second word and I saw make an entry earlier than 1800. The word was derived from Latin and it is no surprise therefore that it was around from 1800s. The upward climb shows the time when the medical world understood more about cancer. I found this timeline and it explained to me the climb.
I tried two more words ‘spaceship’ and ‘ufo’. I inferred that people started reporting seeing flying saucers a bit after spaceship became popular in the books, and science. Initially a lot of interest was shown in exploring space, and thoughts on flying in spaceship started off and then the fear, the drama element of UFO began.
Linguistics studies indicate that the word for ‘fist’ would have been around much before the word for ‘five’ in any language history. After all man started fighting before he counted. Anyone with some more interesting analysis such as this let me know.