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You’ll have gathered that I like playing around with google’s Ngram viewer.

Having been thinking about Mary Somerville recently, I thought I’d use it to assess in some sense the impact of her first book Mechanism of the Heavens, an interpretation of Laplace‘s Mécanique Céleste for the British (published 1832). The results are intriguing. Because the Ngram viewer is case sensitive, one can distinguish between deliberate references to the book, and occasions when the phrase is being used as part of the language (slightly complicated by being in an age when writers still capitalised important words even when they were not titles). But, basically, the phrase was bumbling along at a very low incidence in the English language until the run up to the publication of the book, when usage suddenly increases dramatically. It looks as though Somerville was largely responsible for popularising the phrase in English, as well as for explaining Laplace.

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