The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Dec 282010

Google’s recent release of their database of books makes for some interesting generational research. The Ngram tool gives insights into the comparative occurrence of various words over the last two hundred years (from a large sample of books). Some interesting examples:

Try “sex”. Or try “erotic,” takes off in the Third Turning (Unraveling) 90s just as “sex” tires.  Or try “love” (and “death”), which are both less used nowadays than ever before.  I had a history prof once who used to say that there was a law of compensation or trade-off, in any era, between thinking about sex and death.  Eras obsessed with one regard the other as taboo.  In Victorian times, no one could talk about “sex” but everyone talked about “death” all the time.  (Just think how much care went into gravestones and funerals!)  Today, of course, it’s the reverse.

Try “Man”, used in the 19th c. was used all the time as an all-purpose reference to person, individual, society, etc.  (It was used 5 or 6x as much as “woman.”)  That ubiquitous usage began declining after 1900—and dropping much faster after the late 1960s.

“Woman” usage has naturally been much flatter, though with a fascinating upward surge in the 3rd Great Awakening (peaking in 1900), a deep downward slide in the 4th and 1st Turning of the 1930s through the 1950s, and a resurgence again starting exactly at the beginning of the Consciousness Revolution.

And these from my friend Pete Markiewicz:

First Turning (the High) devaluation of ‘woman’

Nice spike on wars

A word appearing in the Third Turning (Unraveling)

A word jumping in the 2T

A word jumping in the (old) 2T

Some interesting peaks and valleys

Same, different

Hippie and its echo



Dec 272010

This article on Teen Culture from a while back completely misses the point about Boomer (born 1943-1960) moms and dads.  They didn’t “keep up with new trends” in the sense of trying to be fans of every new pop group.  Rather, they perceived (correctly, IMO) that music from all the new pop groups was a pale wannabe reflection of the pure glory of the vintage rock of their own day.  And so they condescendingly accepted it and even hummed along with it when their own kids played it.  Boomers enjoy most of their kids’ music precisely because they sense it to be derivative of their own.  Rap of course is an exception.  It is not derivative (but it is also a Generation X (born 1961-1981) phenomenon).  But this is the exception that proves the rule, since this is a genre than many Boomers have not and never will embrace.

As for Mexico, one thing I learned in my recent trip there is that “emo” is a code word for a subculture that we would call “goth,” that is, culturally to the left, whereas the punkers I am sure were standing up for traditional machismo, that is, the cultural right.  In other words, the fist fights were political.