The last few days I have been working on a post about word frequency, and as I was doing some research, I just happened to notice that "man" is a more common word in English than "woman". I was looking at three different corpora: the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the British National Corpus (BNC), and the Oxford English Corpus (OEC).
For the COCA and the OEC, if you count only nouns, "man" and "woman" rank as #6 and #8 in the COCA and #7 and #14 in the OEC (Word, n.d., The OEC, n.d.). The BNC stats I have don't break words down by Part of Speech, but overall, "man" is #152 and "woman" is #393 (The British, n.d.).
This made me wonder about the use of these words over time. My hypothesis was that in the past, "man" was a lot more common than "woman", but in recent years (at least since, say the 1970s and the women's lib movement, perhaps "woman" had increased in use while "man" decreased.
To test my idea, I used the Google Ngram Viewer and searched for "man+men" vs "woman+women", and sure enough, this is what I found. (Man+men is blue, woman+women is red. Click on the pic for a larger version.)
Sure enough, the red female line starts rising right around 1970.
To play with the data yourself, here is the link to the search on the Google Ngram Viewer website.
The British National Corpus, version 3 (BNC XML Edition). 2007. Distributed by Oxford University Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium. URL: http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/
The OEC: Facts about the language (n.d.). Retrieved 5 Aug 2013 from http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/the-oec-facts-about-the-language
Word Frequency Data. (n.d.) Retrieved 5 Aug 2013 from http://www.wordfrequency.info/free.asp?s=y