Google Ngrams: Crime in 19th Century London

For my project on ngrams, I decided to focus on the 1880’s mystery of Jack the Ripper.

google ngram graph jack the ripper

The first term I chose to search was, of course, “Jack the Ripper.” Strangely, though, the first activity shown on the graph is in 1883. I was a bit stumped as to why this was, because, by all accounts, the Ripper committed the series of murders in 1888. To try to dig deeper and figure out why there was an incongruence, I clicked the link on the bottom of the page for 1800-1889. I tried selecting a custom range of dates, but that proved unhelpful. It took me staring at the page awhile longer to realize that one of the books listed from 1880 was published by the American Kennel Club. Descriptions of that book and a few others featured buzzwords like “pedigree.”

I wonder how the owners of the show dog named Jack the Ripper felt when the little guy suddenly shared the moniker of a serial killer.

(Cute name, though… but I guess that depends on what kind of person you are.)

Overall, on its own, the alias saw a steady rise until a sharp increase occurred in 1888. No surprises there.

I found that words like “murder” or “crime” were far too broad; “Jack the Ripper” all but completely flat lined in comparison. Instead, I settled on “prostitute,” as they were primarily the victims. I attempted to use an inflection search of “prostitut_INF” in the hope of it including “prostitutes” and “prostitution,” but it came up with no results.

The height of the usage of the term “prostitute” was in 1804, followed by a decrease until it roughly leveled out in 1840. After having seen decreases beginning in 1861, the word’s appearance increased beginning in the mid 1880’s. It grew slowly but surely from then until 1900.

The rise could hardly rival the high point from 1804, but that it begins in the 1880’s hints at a possible argument that there is a correlation between the uses of the terms “Jack the Ripper” and “prostitute” in the texts of the time. While this could mean absolutely nothing, it could suggest an emphasis that was put on the identities of the victims.


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