Google has another mind expanding tool out. They have scanned millions of books back to 1500, and created a tool that lets you analyze the frequency of use of a word since then.
I tried running the history of the word courts and got this graph.
Note the relatively steady decline since WWI. Remember this is a measure of the percentage use of the word, so in some ways one might expect “old” words to be swamped out as there are more words and ideas around.
This is the link to get that info from Google to play with it.
Then I tried justice:
Huge growth in the period of the Revolution and after, steady fall after that, and then renewal of interest since about 1990.
Here is the link for justice:
Then I tried fairness.
This is done with less smoothing, showing a steady rise from 1800 to 2000, when there is stabilization and apparent drop in 2008 (although this might be an artifact since it is at the end of the data.)
So fairness is the word of the century!
Anyway, this tool is cool.
Feel free to experiment and share in the comments (or pass on to me for possible posting if unable to post directly.) The tool lets you compare the history of more than one word.