It’s all John Wells’s fault. Just kidding. Until a couple of days ago I was blissfully unaware of Google ngrams. JCW has used them in a couple of posts recently. Be warned if you venture into ngramland. It can gobble up hours of your time.
Somehow (please don’t ask me how!) I have stumbled upon a little mystery. The ngram below is for the word yuppie. The display parameters are: date range=1890-2008, smoothing window=3. As one would expect, the rise of the use of the word starts around 1980.
However, notice the little blip between 1900 and 1915. This is what it looks like magnified (date range=1890-1920).
What is going on here? The OED’s earliest quotation for the word is 1984. Obviously, at least I think it’s obvious, the early 20th century occurrences do not refer to young urban professionals. But what do they refer to?