27 August 2011

Good vibes down the time line

In the middle of a conversation with Clarissa Vincent, she used the expression "good vibes" ... and I found myself wondering whether the Beach Boys invented "good vibrations", or whether we already had them?

Being a terminal nerd (not to mention terminally bad mannered), I wandered off to find out.

The first use of the phrase, in a book in English, according to Google Ngram, is from 1893: Law and the prophets: a scientific work on the relationship between physical bodies, vegetable, animal, human, and planetary by one Frank Earl Ormsby:

"You are embodied for the purpose of expressing your own spirit, see to it that no one robs you of the right. Receive all of the good vibrations that spirits can give you, but do something for yourself, if you expect results."

From then onwards, occurrence of the phrase in literature pootles along close to the bottom of the graph (though with a modestly significant increase from 1925) until 1966 ... after which it rises to a maximum in 1972 before dropping off again.

The Beach Boys released "Good vibrations" in 1966. So, it seems that the phrase had already been in existence for a century, but my generation (actually, probably the previous generation ... I was 14 in 1966, 20 in 1972, not yet writing books) picked it up from the Beach Boys and made it mainstream.

After 1972 it dropped back, but remained regularly used, until 1988 ... when it surged again, reaching a peak between 2004-2006 from which it now appears to be dropping off again.

(I've looked for Law and the prophets in the British Library catalogue, without success; the Library of Congress (probably a better bet, going by the author's name format) isn't responding at the moment ... perhaps later...)

[Later addition, 1611Z: Library of Congress still isn't talking to me ... but I've found Law and the prophets in the Library of Michigan. Published in Chicago by A.L. Fyfe]

[Later addition still, 1626Z: Thanks to Ray Girvan, voice of JSBlog, for an actual copy of Law and the prophets, from the cover page of which I note that Frank Earl Ormsby was "a magian mystic" whose book was "designed for the instruction and guidance of students in the occult sciences". It makes for fascinating reading.]

[And again, 1639Z: from Livia Passini, an MP3 copy of Good vibrations ... complete with authentic scratched vinyl 45rpm clicks and hisses...]


Ray Girvan said...

Google Books Ngram Viewer is quite often unreliable in its cutoff dates. If you go direct to Google Books, you can find a couple of citations before the 1893 Ormsby one:

"When there is but little outside drop, although with a little too much inside, the cylinder opening well proportioned, a good incline plane to the teeth, good vibrations are obtained, and the watch times well." - Horological Journal, June 1877

"Before making the sketch he stated that he had also experimented on something like the phonograph before Edison came out with his invention on it; that he had made various experiments to get good vibrations with plates or diaphragms."
- United States Circuit Court (New York: Southern District), 1882

Felix said...

Hmm ... without having yet been to look at the context, aren't both of those a literal, physical use of the words, though, rather than an emotional or psychic metaphor as used in the Beach Boys song?

Ray Girvan said...

But nor is Frank Earl Ormsby's: in the preceding text (pages 174-175) he appears to be describing literal vibrations within his scheme of things - vibrant forces within the astral substance - rather than metaphorical ones.

Felix said...

True ... but ... mmm ... [grin]

Dr. C said...

Of course the Beach Boy vibes were not produced from Lionel Hampton vibes but from the electro-theremin, apparently a poor substitute for the original one invented by Professor Theremin. The sound is still pretty eerie and goes well with Victorian Gothic, Ouija Boards, etc. Sort of in an A.J. Byatt sort of way {"Possession.")

Geoff said...

Good Vibrations? "...is mainly a psychic metaphor..." Of course.
You get the best "Good vibes man" when atop the Mendips on a full moon in the company of good friends and magic mushrooms and of course when cuddled up with a lover!