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How badly is Google Books search broken, and why?

Via Sapping Attention blog: “I periodically write about Google Books here, so I thought I’d point out something that I’ve noticed recently that should be concerning to anyone accustomed to treating it as the largest collection of books: it appears that when you use a year constraint on book search, the search index has dramatically constricted to the point of being, essentially, broken. Here’s an example. While writing something, I became interested in the etymology of the phrase ‘set in stone.’ Online essays seem to generally give the phrase an absurd antiquity–they talk about Hammurabi and Moses, as if it had been translated from language to language for decades. I thought that it must be more recent–possibly dating from printers working with lithography in the 19th century. So I put it into Google Ngrams. As it often is, the results were quite surprising; about 8,700 total uses in about 8,000 different books before 2002, the majority of which are after 1985. Hammurabi is out, but lithography doesn’t look like a likely origin for widespread popularity either…”

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