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Using Google’s Ngram Viewer, one can see how words were used in literature overtime. Since I am currently learning about the atmospheric nuclear testing conducted by the United States, I decided to use the words “atomic” and “nuclear” in the Ngram Viewer to see if one was used more often. “Atomic” is an older word, its use dating back to 1670, and was more likely to be used literature before 1959 when its use starts to decline. After 1959, the word “nuclear” (1846) would become the more popular word to describe these weapons. (1) With the Ngram Viewer, I was also able to find that the usage of these words correlated with historical events that happened between the United States and the Soviet Union in dealing with such weapons.


According to the Ngram Viewer, the usage of the word “atomic” begins to decline significantly after 1960 and the word “nuclear” became used more often to describe these new weapons. The usage of “nuclear” may have increased due to the discovery and fear of the Soviet tactical nuclear weapons planted in Cuba, which sets of the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Also, nuclear weapon testing was well underway during this time, which raised concerns about the health and safety of people and the environment.


In 1970, the Ngram Viewer showed that both “atomic” and “nuclear” dropped in usage. I found that there was more focus on the events of the Vietnam War than on nuclear weapons. Students were killed at Kent State University and Jackson State College in May while protesting the war.


While the usage of the word “atomic” continued to decline, the usage of “nuclear” increased the most in 1987. That year, there were talks about the reduction of nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union. There were also talks of starting the next START treaty, which would reduce the amount of nuclear weapons each held. After 1987, the word’s usage steadily decreased. The arms treaty and the break up of the Soviet Union in 1989 helped quell the long fear of nuclear war. In conclusion, Ngram Viewer is very useful to show how word usage correlates with historical events.


(ref) Cold War Timeline

(1) Etymonline.com

(2) http://library.thinkquest.org/11046/days/index.html

(3) http://life-in-boston.blogspot.com/2010/04/kent-state-shootings.html

(4) http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/2780/echoes-of-a-treaty-ratification-past

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