Friday, December 03, 2004

"That ship has sailed"

A while ago I used the phrase "that ship has sailed" in anger, but I wasn't sure why. I mean, I hadn't thought to use it before and I wasn't even sure I had used it correctly. It was like slipping into a foreign language in the middle of a conversation.

Since then, I've noticed lots of other people who use the phrase -- sitcom actors, columnists, bloggers, and so on. I can't decide whether I started noticing because of my (embarrassingly inept) use of the phrase or if I'm part of broad attempt at popularizing it. One way to gather information about this might be to use Google's newsgroup archive. The phrase was first used in 1990 (at least in groups archived by Google). Roughly 3/4 of the references are after 2000. In the last year it's been used about 200 out of 829 times. Of course the volume of posts have increased as well.

One way to work around the problem would be to find a "control phrase" which has not changed frequency over the same period. Maybe, "sounds good to me" or "I don't think so". Even better, use a group of phrases. Then compare the change in frequency to the control. Best would be if Google published volume statistics by year.

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