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25 years of The Simpsons, turned into word data

A chart showing how frequently the word “school” is used at different times in episodes of The SimpsonsBenjamin Schmidt

Northeastern historian Ben Schmidt specializes in finding patterns in large bodies of digital text. Usually his work pertains to serious topics, but on a lark—in a single evening, in fact—he pulled closed captioning text to create a database of every line of (nearly) every Simpsons episode from the show's 25-year run. His search tool, which you can visit online, shows the frequency with which words have appeared over the course of 550 episodes, and also lets you see where in an episode a word occurs , along with the longer dialogue in which it appears.

In a post to his personal blog, "Prochronisms," Schmidt gave a few examples of interesting searches you might run. Keyword search "Maude" (the wife of Ned Flanders) and you'll see her name mentioned most frequently in season 11, when she dies, and rarely again after that. He observes that the word "school" comes up very often early in episodes, but is spoken far less in the waning minutes, by which point, presumably, Bart and Lisa have moved on to other activities.


What does this all add up to? It's hard to say, but one of the most enjoyable parts of Schmidt's creation is the random peeks that it gives you into the Simpsons universe. Search for a bland term like "home," for example. You might not detect any patterns, but just from Season 12, you get this: "Now do you realize how unsafe the American home is?"; "So I notice your home smells of feces,"; and "Mr. Simpson, please, will you go home?"

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at