Saturday, December 01, 2018

"Green Great Dragon": Mapping the Great Colors

I'm partway through the first of two essays in A Wilderness of Dragons about Tolkien's early encounter with culturally mandated adjective order.  In "'A Green Great Dragon' and J. R. R. Tolkien's 'Native Language,'" John R. Holmes looks for usage patterns of green great vs great green in various databases, and (thus far) seems to conclude that Mabel Tolkien was correct.

But of course this got me thinking about how green great/great green stacks up against other color choices.  So I played around with google Ngrams to see which combinations were most popular over time.  In the process, I noticed that the first Ngram phrase is always in blue, the second is always in red, etc.  So for synergy, I decided to list the colors in an order that coordinated with the thing described, i.e. the blue line would show data for blue great/great blue.

Predictably, the great [color] formula was much more common than the [color] great formula.

But I was more interested in which colors are more "popular" in the great [color] formula.  Of the five colors considered, great red has historically been most popular, followed most nearly by great blue.

great [color] in 1700-1800 (red, blue, green, orange, violet)

Then, around 1970, great red declined as great blue ascended.  And now great blue has taken the lead.

great [color] in 1800-2000 (blue+, red-, green, orange, violet)

For what it's worth, I can think of phrases such as "great blue marble" (referring to Earth) which I associate with the 1970s/1980s, and a song that began "Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts..."  Of course, google has some other suggestions, in the following order:

  • great blue (omitting two instances of "great blues"):
    • ...heron, 
    • ...hole belize, 
    • ...heron facts, 
    • ...lobelia, 
    • ...whale, 
    • ...north, 
    • ...heron habitat, 
    • ...heron diet.
  • great red
    • ...dragon
    • ...dxd, 
    • definition, 
    • ...elekk, 
    • ...sox players, 
    • ...sox pitchers, 
    • ...dragon bible
    • ...shark.
  • great green
    • ...wall, 
    • ...macaw, 
    • ...gobs
    • ...wall africa, 
    • ...bush cricket, 
    • ...supermarket, 
    • ...arkleseizure, 
    • reviews, 
    • ...wall china.

There were relatively few instances of [color] great in 1700-1800 -- each appeared only once, except for violet great, which did not appear at all -- so I'll just show the diagram from 1800-2000:

[color] great in 1800-2000 (green+, blue-, red, orange, violet)

Here, it is interesting that blue great was by far the most popular of these unpopular formulations of the phrase, though with green great spiking now and then.  But after 1980, green great took over.  I can't help wondering if that might reflect the rise of Tolkien scholarship, and specifically discussion of his story about his childhood story about the "green great dragon."

For those who are curious, here are close-ups of the 1970-2000 period:

Bonus "Rainbow-Plus" Edition
(not color coordinated)

Finally, just for kicks, here's the rainbow plus black, white, gold, and silver.  Turns out great white and great black take the lead -- though I would assume the name "great white shark" probably skews the results a bit.  Here's what google suggests for those two:
  • great white (omitting one instance of "great white sharks"):
    • ...shark, 
    • ...fleet, 
    • ...buffalo, 
    • ...shark attack, 
    • ...north, 
    • ...way, 
    • ...shark facts, 
    • ...shark cape cod.
  • great black
    • ...hawk, 
    • ...wasp, 
    • ...hawk marine, 
    • ...hawk portland maine, 
    • ...backed gull, 
    • ...wasp sting, 
    • ...movies, 
    • ...swamp, 
    • ...wasp nest, 
    • ...shark.

great [color], rainbow-plus, in 1800-2000

[color] great, rainbow-plus, in 1800-2000

close-up of [color] great, rainbow-plus, in 1800-1900

Ngram searches (for ease of cutting and pasting):
  • great blue,great red,great green,great orange,great violet
  • blue great,red great,green great,orange great,violet great
  • great red,great orange,great yellow,great green, great blue,great indigo,great white,great black,great silver,great gold
  • red great,orange great,yellow great,green great,blue great,indigo great,white great,black great,silver great,gold great

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