On the changing usage of care in American English

Rather than providing a finished, polished project here (you guys create much better looking ones than me anyway), I thought that I'd just create links on a number of different ways to carry out semantically-oriented searches on a given word -- in this case, the meaning and usage of care.

The basic searches you'd probably want to do are:

  1. frequency over time (including by part of speech, if applicable), just to give you a sense of whether the word has been moderately frequent in all periods, so that you can get good data for all periods.

  2. Preceding and following asterisks to look for new collocates or new phrases

  3. Look for some high-frequency "clusters" of meanings

  4. Keyword in Context (KWIC): to look for changing patterns

  5. Collocates (overall) during the past 200 years -- quickly look for obvious trends by comparing the collocates in each decade

  6. maybe limit the collocates search to a specific context -- e.g. nouns or adjectives right before or after, rather than any collocates anywhere nearby

  7. once you've tentatively identified some interesting changes in collocates, do a frequency/chart search for the node word and collocate

  8. compare collocates in two periods (e.g. 1850s-1920s vs 1940s-2000s) to see the "then / now" contrast

  9. if you've found a number of specific collocates that seem to fit in the same "syntactic frame", you can just use "placeholders" to find other collocates

  10. you may need to move beyond collocates to look at the actual "Keyword in Context" lines, to see changes in meaning

So here's some data on care:

1. Overall frequency chart

Verb frequency has stayed pretty constant, nouns have decreased a bit, but overall is pretty good. That's nice -- we can get good data from all periods.

2. Preceding and following asterisks to look for new collocates or new phrases

For example, * care * shows that (I) don't care and take care of are more common recently, whereas (not/n't) care to was more common 100 years ago. You can just use asterisks on one side of the word, if you want, and also compare these phrases in two separate sections (#7).

3. High frequency clusters:

  • Verb: it looks like a lot of these refer to care about (something) in the sense of "it's important to someone". For example, "I don't care if you do it or not", or "she didn't care at all about him".

  • care about increases quite a bit over the last 200 years. And what do we care about? Money, politics, kids, sex, and appearance, and so on

  • care for peaked about 100 years ago. And what do we care for? Children, babies, refugees, orphans, and so on.

  • Noun: It looks like take care of (something) is one of the most frequent uses. As a subset of this, there are lots of mention of what we take care of, such as children, babies, business, etc.

5. Collocates overall -- first glance

Here's the collocates for care as a verb, a noun, and all uses

6. Localized, part of speech collocates

  • adverbs before the verb care: then / now: it looks like the negative sense ("I don't really care", "he doesn't even care if") is much more common now than about 100 years ago

  • adjectives before the noun care: then / now. Now it refers more to medical /institutional care: intensive, primary, managed, long-term, preventive. Back then it was more general and personal: jealous, anxious, tender, motherly.

  • Also, care in the sense of "worries, concerns" seems to have been more common back then: "amid the sordid cares and humiliations of Joan's rough life", "dull cares that overweighed me", "above the vulgar, petty cares of life".

7. Frequency of specific node / collocate pair (new)

8. Compare "then / now":

  • See in #4 above

  • Take care of [nn*]: nowadays we take more care of problems, arrangements, stuff, chores, details, our health, and tasks, whereas back then it was friends, flowers, interests, and rooms (a bit more concrete).

9. "Syntactic frames" for patterns:

  • In the general collocates list, there are "strange" entries like straw, rap, snap, and so on. Nearly all of these occur in the phrase "care a [nn*] whether|if|about (something)", so we can search that instead of specific collocates. And comparing things one hundred years ago to now, we find other cases like care a hang, curse, button, rush, copper, pin, fig, etc.