Word Up: Moorestown’s Linguistic Legacy Over the Centuries

Some people hear our name – Towni Localistics – and wonder what in tarnation “Localistics” means? Sometimes I’ll tell them it’s the plural of “localistic”, but that typically irks people and makes their face scrunch up in a mix of confusion and contempt. Rough crowd.

Fine, what is it, then? Is it a combination of “local” and “analytics”? “Local” and “statistics”? “Low”, “calorie”, “chip”, “sticks”? No, that would be localchistics.

The official Towni stance on the matter is a defiant “no comment!”, but let’s pretend for a hot minute it has something to do with taking an analytic approach toward the data that underlies local communities. Fair?

With that definition in mind, we took on a fun little exercise. We evaluated our hometown – Moorestown, New Jersey – using Google’s awesome tool called Ngram Viewer. It’s free to use (here), and it will output a graph showing the frequency that the word or phrase has been used over time in literature.

First up – Moorestown.

Ngram-Moorestown

So…what does it mean? Google’s supercomputers scan essentially every published book, and we see that the word “Moorestown” appears with a frequency of about 0.00022% (as of 2008). That’s once every 45 million words. Compare it with the word “town”, which appears once every 10,000 words, or the phrase “useless info”, which appears every 3 billion words, including, for reasons unknown, this sentence.

What really matters in this analysis isn’t the raw numbers, but the trends over time. Why did the word Moorestown spike in the 1830s? Was it because the area had been previously known as Chester Township, and during that timeframe began being referenced as its current name? Why the spike in the mid 1880s? Was it the publication of the seminal book by James Purdy, Moorestown Old and New: A Local Sketch, and the notoriety it brought the community? What explains the 1920, 1930 and 1940 peaks? The late 50s peak? The precipitous drop off in 1965?

To continue the exercise, let’s look at another word that Moorestonians know well: “Nipper”.

Ngram-Nipper

We see the high frequency era – 1880 to 1920 – coinciding with the rise of the Victor Talking Machine Company, whom the mascot dog represented, as well as its fall in the 1910s as electronic recording took over. Thanks a lot, Edison. Was the rise in the 1990s due to a burst of nostalgia – the same sentiment that spawned the Moorestown-based art installation which bred thirty 5-foot tall fiberglass recreations of the iconic pup?

Let’s do some branding detective work. What about the word “Towni” itself? Certainly this won’t appear until, say, 2011, when we coined it, right? And it won’t peak until around 2016 (spoiler alert), right?

Ngram-towni

Wait – what the nipper?! What’s with the 1820s jump? Was there a “Ye Old Towni” that we’re not aware of? That website must have been so old-fashioned. Like, AOL dial-up old-fashioned! (Note to self – great takedown.)

Well one day I’ll get to the bottom of that 188 year old mystery, but until then, let’s look at one of the missions that Towni as a business embodies: the phrase “shop local”.

Ngram-shoplocal

Now we’re talking. One could write a book solely on the meaning behind this chart (which, ironically would influence the chart itself, which makes my brain hurt to think about). What do the ups and downs of this graph say about our American culture? We see spikes in the lead up to both World Wars. We see a rise throughout the 1970s as the concept of resource shortages reached the mainstream mindset. As globalization kicked in throughout the 1980s, the movement disintegrated, rising once more in the recession of the early 1990s. Another dropoff as the Web 1.0 came to prominence (probably encouraging remote buying for the first time on a grand scale), bottoming out with the dotcom bust in 2000.

The steady progression upward since 2000 is a pretty remarkable thing. Google’s data only takes us up to 2008, and one must wonder what this recent recessionary period has done to those two critical words, “shop local”.

The words we use reflect back on us in ways we can’t really appreciate except when viewed from afar and over grand timelines. Part of Towni’s overarching goal is to take that kind of data – spread throughout libraries, buried in town halls and permeating the internet – and assemble it, reproduce it and present it to a community in a way that makes sense. Is that what “localistics” means? Our response:

Ngram-nocomment

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