The recent heat wave in London is probably responsible for a certain lassitude of the intellect, but it has led me into idle speculation: what popular words are used to denote cleverness? The absolute frequency, and the historical trend from 1800 might prove informative.
First, we can get rid of the abbreviation IQ. It does not show up at all until the early 1920s and by 1930 almost disappears again, only to make a very slow return which peaks in the mid 1970s and then subsides somewhat. It is rare, so forget about it.
Smart is somewhat more frequent, and stays remarkably stable, rising somewhat in the last decade. Still pretty rare.
Clever rose from nowhere to a respectable peak in 1900 and then declined to the end of the millennium, with a little bit of a revival since. Still pretty rare.
Intelligent was more frequent, but has been in relative decline since the 1930s, ending up no more popular that the rare words we have already discarded above.
Bright boomed in the 1870s, and then declined, but still has respectable usage.
One word has flourished, surpassing all others by 1930 and zooming upwards ever since.
Thus, we can see that there has been a drop in smartness, cleverness, and intelligence. There has been tolerance of brightness. There has been warm acceptance of ability.
What’s your ability quotient?
This note was posted on a hot and humid evening. Slightly different variants of the keyword might have give different results. No animals were harmed in the conduct of this experiment.