In the past few days, pundits have been debating a controversial new edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the word “nigger” with “slave.” We’ve already read a number of great, smart takes on whether this was cultural sensitivity or censorship. But it also occurs to us that this is the perfect use for Google’s Books Ngram Viewer.
Turns out, “nigger” has never been a particularly popular word in books — although it did trend upwards just after the Civil War, around the WWII years, and during the civil rights movement. The history of “slave” is about what you’d expect, peaking just before emancipation and again in the ’60s and ’70s. Anyone have a guess as to why it’s been on the rise since the ’90s, though?