Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Poker" in books

You can now search Google's database of books for the relative frequency with which words or terms show up, by year (or decade) of publication. I was curious about whether "poker" would show an increasing trend over time; after all, there were very few poker books written prior to World War II.

I was therefore surprised at the curve generated, showing a peak in the mid-1940s, and a substantial decline since. (There is a little rise just in the last few years before 2000, which might be attributable to the boom in poker and poker publishing, or might just be statistical noise. Too early to tell.)

For comparison, I also checked "blackjack," "roulette," and "gambling." None of them showed the same kind of trend line.

I'm puzzled by this. Maybe a lot of the references are noncontextual, i.e., referring to fireplace pokers rather than to the game. If so, that would help explain why the other words do not follow similar patterns. Or maybe it's a sampling error problem--i.e., a higher fraction of 1940s books that mention poker found their way into Google's database than was the case in the 1980s.

But I really have no solid idea. Theories, readers?


Bailey said...

I love curious people. I'm sure with more research it will make more sense. Hopefully the popularity continues to rise in the next decade or so :)

Crash said...

Well, that was fascinating. Thanks for showing it. I went there.

Some possible complications:

1. Going through 2008 shows a big increase.
2. It is case-sensitive, so 'Poker' shows much differently than 'poker.'
3. The y-axis is % of all books published that year, not raw counts.

Crash said...

And changing the smoothing (moving average) adds even another surprise, if you go through 2008.

Crash said...

Can't stop playing with this. Set it up for Poker, 1920-2008, American English, Smoothing=0. Shows a big peak around 1973, just after the WSOP started. FUN!
All done.

Anonymous said...

I presumed it was due to WWII. I had heard anecdote that WWII was one of poker's big breaks; before that it had never been on kitchen tables or in men's clubhouses in much of America.

You can also search/browse the cataloged books from specific years.

Crash said...

There was a separate rise (separate from the rise in the early 70s) around WWII, so you are right about that.

Crash said...

Sorry, Anon. I failed to say that i used different settings, as shown above, than Rakewell did for his posted graph. His shows the WWII hump.