Prochonism Criticizes TV Shows for Time Lingo Goofs. Do TV Writers Care?

June 26, 2012

We have stumbled upon an interesting site. is the project of Princeton History grad student and Harvard Cultural Observatory fellow Ben Schmidt. It tracks lingual anachronisms (words or phrases are not in their correct historical or chronological time) heard in period TV shows. Schmidt creates word clouds and charts that graphically represent the usages of such language. He also offers commentary. For example:

“The worst phrase, at 30x more common, is ‘status meeting.’ It’s a very rare term in either period, which means that we might be able safely to ignore it: but there are a lot reasons not to. It falls pretty readily into the category I discussed in my Atlantic piece of Mad Men dropping 70s and 80s corporate speech in the 1960s recklessly; the very few places it is used in the 1960s seem to slant towards the government/engineering end of the spectrum, making it out of place at a creative small startup; and the Ngram curve veers pretty sharply up around the Carter/Reagan great divide.”

Picky? Perhaps, but we language folks can get that way. What’s interesting to us, though, is the juxtaposition of text mining and the boob tube. What does such a focus say about America’s intellectual bifurcation?

The sun may not rise. TV writers drag themselves out of bed late in the day anyway and may miss the news about their egregious disregard of TV lingoing.

Cynthia Murrell, June 26, 2012

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