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Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

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Map of Words along Trade Routes

Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

In the early history of international trade, when exotic goods traveled to new regions, their native names sometimes hitchhiked along with them.

Naturally, the Germans have a term – Wanderwörter – for these extraordinary loanwords that journey around the globe, mutating subtly along the way.

Today’s map, produced by Haisam Hussein for Lapham’s Quarterly, charts the flow of Wanderwörter along global trade routes.

Tea

China’s export dominance over tea influenced how people around the world refer to their steeped beverages.

The spread of tea along the Silk Road from Mandarin-speaking Northern China resulted in much of Asia and Africa having similar sounding words for tea. Chá evolved into the chai widely consumed in India and surrounding areas today.

Tea’s other major trade route, through Min-speaking Southern China, spread the pronunciation that became the standard around Europe. This is why we see such striking similarities between thé (French), thee (Dutch), tee (German), (Spanish), and (Italian).

Tomatoes

Sometimes, a word’s journey isn’t completely linear.

In the case of tomatoes, the Italians’ decision to dub the red fruit pomodoro, or golden apple, led to a linguistic fork in the road. This is the reason the English name for tomatoes is still similar to the Aztec term tomatl, but in Russian, pomidor can be traced back to Italian.

Cotton

Many people in North America would be surprised to learn that “cotton” is a direct link to the Arabic word al-qutn.

Coca

When the Spanish brought coca from South America and spread it into the global market, its easy-to-pronounce name tagged along for the entire journey. Though its spelling may differ across cultures, say the word “coca” in many countries and people will likely know what you’re referring to.

A Small World After All

Most of us are vaguely aware that parts of our langauge consist of loanwords from other regions and cultures, but seeing the spread of language in map form is a powerful reminder that the globalization as we know it is a continuation of centuries of commercial and cultural exchange.

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Maps

Animated Map: The History of U.S. Counties

This video highlights the history of American counties, and how their boundaries have changed over the last 300 years.

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Animated Video: The History of U.S Counties

Did you know that there are 3,142 different counties in the U.S. today?

Going as far back as the 1600s, English settlers arriving in the New World envisioned counties as a means of accessible government—a county seat was meant to be within a day’s buggy ride for every citizen.

While the role of counties in local government has remained significant in modern times, their boundaries have changed drastically over the years.

This animated map by Alexander Varlamov visualizes the history of U.S. county borders, and how these jurisdictions have evolved over time.

County Equivalents

Before diving in, it’s important to note a few county-equivalents that function similarly but go by different names:

  • Boroughs/Census areas: Alaska is made up of 19 boroughs, but the majority of its landmass is not included in them. Rather, it’s officially labeled by the Alaskan government as the unorganized borough.
  • Parishes: Instead of counties, Louisiana uses the term parishes because of its French and Catholic heritage.
  • Independent cities: These are cities that operate outside their surrounding county’s jurisdiction. There are 41 independent cities in the U.S. and 38 of them are in Virginia.

Over 300 Years of Growth

The number of counties in the U.S. has increased dramatically since the early days of American history. Here’s a look at their growth since 1790:

YearNumber of Counties and Parishes
1790292
18501621
18702247
19002713
19203041

The first county was established in 1634, over 100 years before the first Census was taken (and long before America gained independence). It was created in James City, Virginia—an interesting location, considering Virginia now has the highest concentration of independent cities.

Why does Virginia have so many independent cities? The state’s separation of counties and cities dates back to the early 1700s. With a rural population and low productivity, it was difficult to establish town centers. After several attempts, the General Assembly gave up. Independent cities were established instead.

Short-lived Counties

Counties as a political organization have been around for hundreds of years, but some individual counties haven’t lasted long.

For instance, Bullfrog County in Nevada was established in 1987 and dissolved just two years later. During its brief existence, it had no population and no infrastructure—and its primary purpose was simply to prevent Yucca Mountain from becoming a nuclear waste dump.

While Bullfrog County has since been dissolved, the controversy around the nuclear waste site is ongoing as of 2020.

Continual Change

The latest official county, Broomfield Country, was established in Colorado in 2001.

Although it’s been decades since the last county was created, there have been continual boundary changes and status updates—sometimes for political reasons. For instance, the Supreme Court recently ruled that half of Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation. While this doesn’t necessarily change ownership, it does affect jurisdiction and county authority.

Though the lines on the map are more or less static now, the invisible lines of county jurisdiction will continue to change and evolve over time.

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Technology

Animated Map: What America Searched for on Google, Over the Last Decade

This fascinating animated map provides an overview of the top trending Google searches in every state over the last decade.

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What America Searched for on Google, in the Last Decade

Cultural shifts come in many shapes and forms, and some are harder to measure than others.

Thankfully, Google search volume provides an easy avenue for measuring large-scale cultural trends. And because Google makes up more than 90% of all internet searches in the U.S., looking at what’s trending on Google is a great way to understand the shifting questions and interests that are captivating society at any given time.

This animated map by V1 Analytics provides an overview of the top trending Google searches in every state over the last decade. It sheds light on what types of new information, events, and stories received the most attention in the last ten years—and more generally, it shows us what the U.S. population has been thinking about.

Trending Searches versus Top Searches

Before diving into the top trends of the decade, it’s worth taking a moment to distinguish between “trending searches” and “top searches”:

  • Trending Searches: Keywords that had the largest increase in traffic, in a specific period of time
  • Top Searches: The most searched keywords in a given time frame

This video would look a lot different, and a lot less interesting, if it showed Google’s top searches. To give some perspective, here are the Top 10 Searches in the U.S. (as of 2020):

RankKeyword
#1facebook
#2youtube
#3amazon
#4gmail
#5google
#6weather
#7ebay
#8yahoo
#9walmart
#10yahoo mail

Understanding the difference between trending searches and top searches is important because it gives us insight into why certain keywords trend in some places, but not others. For instance, in March 2020, the word “coronavirus” was trending throughout a majority of the U.S., with a few exceptions—it wasn’t trending in Massachusetts, California, Texas, Nevada, or Arizona.

It’s easy to make the assumption that people in these states were not concerned about COVID-19—however, that’s not necessarily the case.

It’s important to remember that trending searches are measured by the increase of traffic, not just the overall amount of searches. Therefore, in states where it wasn’t trending, the word “coronavirus” may have already been a popular search term for a while, so the keyword didn’t see a sudden spike in interest like it did in other places.

Undivided Attention

In the last decade, there were moments when the entire country was googling the same thing. Some keyword trends lasted a day, while others lasted over a week.

Here’s a look at keywords that took over the whole U.S, and when they were trending unanimously:

Date RangeCategorySearch Term
Feb 4, 2011MusicAdele
Feb 6 - Feb 23, 2011MusicBorn This Way
Feb 28, 2011MusicBorn This Way
March 22 - Apr 1, 2011Pop CultureRebecca Black
June 12 - June 27, 2011TV & FilmGame of Thrones
Nov 9, 2012Current EventsAbortion
Jan 10 - Jan 27, 2014TV & FilmFrozen
Feb 28 - March 2, 2014ElectronicsSamsung Galaxy s5
Jan 11 - Jan 13, 2015MusicBlank Space
Feb 26 - Mar 30, 2015MusicUptown Funk
June 5, 2015Pop CultureCaitlyn Jenner
June 16 - June 19, 2015TV & FilmJurassic World
Feb 26, 2016Pop CultureDamn Daniel
June 3, 2016Pop CultureHarambe
June 20, 2016TV & FilmFinding Dory
June 30, 2016TV & FilmFinding Dory
July 6, 2016TV & FilmFinding Dory
Aug 4 - Aug 7, 2016TV & FilmSuicide Squad
Aug 24 - Sept 8, 2016Pop CultureHarambe
Sept 23 - Sept 26, 2016Pop CultureBrad Pitt
Oct 21, 2016ElectronicsGoogle Pixel
Nov 24, 2016ElectronicsGoogle Pixel
Dec 14 - Dec 20, 2016Current EventsAleppo
Jan 7 - Jan 10, 2017TV & FilmThis Is Us
Jan 23 - Feb 2, 2017TV & FilmThis Is Us
Feb 8 - Feb 12, 2017SportsSuper bowl
Feb 22 - Feb 24, 2017TV & FilmThis Is Us
March 7 - March 11, 2017ElectronicsNintendo Switch
March 21 - Apr 1, 2017TV & FilmBeauty and the Beast
May 7 - May 16, 2017Pop CultureFidget Spinner
June 17 - July 18, 2017MusicDespacito
Sept 22, 2017TV & FilmIt
Oct 13, 2017Current EventsHarvey Weinstein
Nov 3, 2017Current EventsKevin Spacey
Jan 12 - Jan 23, 2018Current EventsLogan Paul
Feb 6 - Feb 11, 2018TV & FilmAltered Carbon
March 15 - March 29, 2018Video GamesFortnite
May 4, 2018Video GamesFortnite
July 21, 2018Video GamesFortnite
Aug 5 - Aug 22, 2018Video GamesFortnite
Jan 17 - Feb 3, 2019Music7 Rings
Feb 21 - Feb 23, 2019Current EventsJussie Smollett
March 12 - March 22, 2019TV & FilmCaptain Marvel
March 27, 2019MusicBillie Eilish
March 30, 2019MusicBillie Eilish
Aug 24 - Aug 27, 2019MusicBillie Eilish
Oct 9 - Oct 29, 2019TV & FilmJoker
Nov 20 - Nov 24, 2019TV & FilmThe Mandalorian
Dec 5 - Dec 14, 2019Pop CultureBaby Yoda
Jan 15, 2020Current EventsPrince Harry
Jan 20, 2020Current EventsPrince Harry
Feb 13 - Feb 15, 2020TV & FilmJojo Rabbit
May 5 - May 14, 2020Current EventsElon Musk
June 24, 2020Current EventsBubba Wallace

It’s interesting to look at the variety of topics that dominate the population’s collective thoughts. There’s a unique mix of popular culture, entertainment, electronics, prominent figures, and public scandals.

Something else worth noting is how country-wide trends became a lot more common in the latter part of the decade—in 2019 for example, 9 keywords trended unanimously. This was more than in the entire first half of the decade.

While the secret to going viral remains a mystery, one thing remains clear—the public certainly has a broad range of interests. So really, it’s anyone’s game.

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