A Puzzle About Tacos


tacoThe political writer Kevin Drum went off his beat last week. Using the New York Times new tool for counting the mentions of a word in their archives, he investigates mentions of the word “taco”.

Back in 1877, a full 3 percent of all Times articles mentioned tacos! In fact, tacomania was a feature of the Times during all of the 1870s and 1880s, before suddenly falling off a cliff in 1890. What’s up with that? Why did tacos suddenly become verboten in 1890? Did a new editor take over who hated tacos? And what’s the deal with the blip from about 1917 to 1922? Did World War I produce a sudden explosion of interest in tacos?

Here is the chart detailing the mentions of “taco”.


I doubt that tacos were well known in the Northeast in the late 19th Century. But perhaps food historians out there will correct me.  In fact, food historian Jeffrey Pilcher claims the first mention in the U.S is in a newspaper in 1905, which is incompatible with what the Times database is showing.

My guess, along with many of Kevin’s commenters, is the spike in mentions is the result of an OCR transcription error since I would imagine these archives have been scanned. But that doesn’t explain the drop-off in mentions in 1890.

But at any rate, this is a useful tool for tracking food trends.

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