Evolution of the most common English words and phrases over the centuries
By determining the most common English words and phrases since the beginning of the sixteenth century, we obtain a unique large-scale view of the evolution of written text. We find that the most common words and phrases in any given year had a much shorter popularity lifespan in the sixteenth century than they had in the twentieth century. By measuring how their usage propagated across the years, we show that for the past two centuries, the process has been governed by linear preferential attachment. Along with the steady growth of the English lexicon, this provides an empirical explanation for the ubiquity of Zipf's law in language statistics and confirms that writing, although undoubtedly an expression of art and skill, is not immune to the same influences of self-organization that are known to regulate processes as diverse as the making of new friends and World Wide Web growth.