Looking for another reason to learn new words on Vocabulary.com? Check out a study released last week on the relationship between literary and economic misery.

The study compares authors' use of "negative mood" vocabulary with the economic misery index, a combination of unemployment and inflation figures. Looking back a little more than a century, the study shows that times of economic distress are followed by spikes in "literary misery," during which writers turn to synonyms for anger, disgust, fear, and sadness when describing mood.

Thus, as the graph below shows, evidence of World War I, The Great Depression, and the energy crisis of the 1970s have been etched into the literary record.  

Figure 1. Time series of the literary misery index for all books calculated through WNA (white circles), versus the U.S. economic misery index  (red circles).

The study also shows that literary misery follows the economic variety at a consistent ten-year lag, which researchers suggest might be accounted for by the length of time it takes to write books, or the coming of age of authors whose impressionable childhood years were shaped by economic hard times. 

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is an excellent example of this phenomenon in action. Published in 1939, a decade after the Great Depression got underway, Grapes exemplifies economic misery in action. Check out teacher-made vocabulary lists drawn from the novel: John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath: Chapters 1-8, Chapters 9-15, Chapters 16-19, Chapters 20-24, and Chapters 25-30

Meanwhile, another new study suggests that parts of speech may determine a novel's success. Grammar Girl weighs in here.

Teachers: Looking for more literature-based Vocabulary Lists like this one? Find them here and check back often. Our curriculum development team adds new lists every week. Or get started on making your own lists with a short video "Vocabulary Lists Made Quick and Easy" and blog post "Six Steps to Better List Making."