Decade-Specific Words in Popular Songs: An Embarrassing Statement on Pop Culture

Words are tricky little things, able to define and manifest the most incredible leaps of emotion and concept. But their recurrent use in song as a measure for society’s focus is often overlooked, despite potential indicators of cultural shifts.

Writer David Taylor looked for words in song titles that appeared on the Billboard charts during a given decade, charting usage for the top five of each ten-year span, going all the way back to 1890. Four columns divide the data by decade, word, “keyness” (how unique the word is in the particular time period) and the involvement of a specific work throughout the decade in question.

Words possessing high keyness values show peaks at and around the red bars, with words like “Home,” “Old” and “Land” taking top spots a century ago while these days the top spots are populated with words like “Fuck,” “Die” and “Hell”. Before you hang your head in shame, consider the thought that we’ve taken a step forward, given that the 1990s and 2000s were rife with inane “lolspeak” word abbreviations like “U” and “Ya”. We’ll take some dirty words over illiterate baby talk any day of the week. 


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