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.
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), té (Spanish), and tè (Italian).
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.
Many people in North America would be surprised to learn that “cotton” is a direct link to the Arabic word al-qutn.
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.
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.
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.
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:
|Year||Number of Counties and Parishes|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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 Range||Category||Search Term|
|Feb 4, 2011||Music||Adele|
|Feb 6 - Feb 23, 2011||Music||Born This Way|
|Feb 28, 2011||Music||Born This Way|
|March 22 - Apr 1, 2011||Pop Culture||Rebecca Black|
|June 12 - June 27, 2011||TV & Film||Game of Thrones|
|Nov 9, 2012||Current Events||Abortion|
|Jan 10 - Jan 27, 2014||TV & Film||Frozen|
|Feb 28 - March 2, 2014||Electronics||Samsung Galaxy s5|
|Jan 11 - Jan 13, 2015||Music||Blank Space|
|Feb 26 - Mar 30, 2015||Music||Uptown Funk|
|June 5, 2015||Pop Culture||Caitlyn Jenner|
|June 16 - June 19, 2015||TV & Film||Jurassic World|
|Feb 26, 2016||Pop Culture||Damn Daniel|
|June 3, 2016||Pop Culture||Harambe|
|June 20, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|June 30, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|July 6, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|Aug 4 - Aug 7, 2016||TV & Film||Suicide Squad|
|Aug 24 - Sept 8, 2016||Pop Culture||Harambe|
|Sept 23 - Sept 26, 2016||Pop Culture||Brad Pitt|
|Oct 21, 2016||Electronics||Google Pixel|
|Nov 24, 2016||Electronics||Google Pixel|
|Dec 14 - Dec 20, 2016||Current Events||Aleppo|
|Jan 7 - Jan 10, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|Jan 23 - Feb 2, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|Feb 8 - Feb 12, 2017||Sports||Super bowl|
|Feb 22 - Feb 24, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|March 7 - March 11, 2017||Electronics||Nintendo Switch|
|March 21 - Apr 1, 2017||TV & Film||Beauty and the Beast|
|May 7 - May 16, 2017||Pop Culture||Fidget Spinner|
|June 17 - July 18, 2017||Music||Despacito|
|Sept 22, 2017||TV & Film||It|
|Oct 13, 2017||Current Events||Harvey Weinstein|
|Nov 3, 2017||Current Events||Kevin Spacey|
|Jan 12 - Jan 23, 2018||Current Events||Logan Paul|
|Feb 6 - Feb 11, 2018||TV & Film||Altered Carbon|
|March 15 - March 29, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|May 4, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|July 21, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|Aug 5 - Aug 22, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|Jan 17 - Feb 3, 2019||Music||7 Rings|
|Feb 21 - Feb 23, 2019||Current Events||Jussie Smollett|
|March 12 - March 22, 2019||TV & Film||Captain Marvel|
|March 27, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|March 30, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|Aug 24 - Aug 27, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|Oct 9 - Oct 29, 2019||TV & Film||Joker|
|Nov 20 - Nov 24, 2019||TV & Film||The Mandalorian|
|Dec 5 - Dec 14, 2019||Pop Culture||Baby Yoda|
|Jan 15, 2020||Current Events||Prince Harry|
|Jan 20, 2020||Current Events||Prince Harry|
|Feb 13 - Feb 15, 2020||TV & Film||Jojo Rabbit|
|May 5 - May 14, 2020||Current Events||Elon Musk|
|June 24, 2020||Current Events||Bubba 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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