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A couple of hours ago I was reading an answer on EL&U, which was posted four months ago, when I noticed two Google Books Ngrams were completely empty. The two graphs are completely blank except for the X and Y axis and a small yellow square positioned at the top centre.

two empty Ngram graphs

I posted a comment pointing out the anomaly and the answerer confirmed that the graphs were devoid of detail, although by replacing the word "chart" with "graph" in the URL, everything returned to normal. They also added that a similar graph posted on a different answer appeared to be unaffected, and in fact the word "chart" is embedded in the link.

comment paraphrased above

I searched in the archives for other instances but could not find any. Is there a fix for this bug?

In light of the lightning downvote, I want to add that there's nothing to suggest that this weird anomaly is restricted to EL&U.

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    The bug is in Google side, they are generating the image. Not sure how you think SE can fix the bug. Sep 30, 2022 at 5:45
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard Please see my comments below Glorfindel's answer. It may be obvious to you the fault lies with Google but it wasn't for me, I know nothing about code etc. So, you wouldn't have reported this at all? Why? Sep 30, 2022 at 7:15
  • This might be the wrong bug report. Correct and on topic way would be asking to perform mass replace of broken links. It does not matter why they are broken, that's the off topic part. Sep 30, 2022 at 7:48
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    But I didn't know it was Google's "fault". I don't think the tone of the post was pointing a finger at anyone, I was only just asking if there was a fix. If the fix is a mass replacement for broken links then that's the answer, isn't it? BTW I thought a broken link didn't show anything. Sep 30, 2022 at 7:50
  • I never said or implied you posted off topic question on purpose. Posting something off topic without knowing it's off topic does not make in on topic. But now you know, and I've explained as best as I can. Sep 30, 2022 at 7:52
  • "Not sure how you think SE can fix the bug." I'm not sure if I interpreted this comment in the right light. It does however help explain the downvotes to me (I was at a lost) and why there are votes in favour of the post's closure, so now I get it. Sep 30, 2022 at 7:56
  • I wonder if something changed on Google's end - the images are now working for me again.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:42
  • @Glorfindel and for me too. Maybe Google received similar bug reports. Sep 30, 2022 at 19:02

1 Answer 1

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It's ... easier than it looks at first sight. The URL in that answer is

https://books.google.com/ngrams/chart?content=nitty+gritty&year_start=1940&year_end=2019&corpus=29&smoothing=3#

and you can get a working one by replacing the + symbol with its URL encoded form, %2B:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/chart?content=nitty%2Bgritty&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=en-2019&smoothing=3

Proof:

This does seem to be out of the reach of the non-bumping URL replacer, but I guess I could configure my script to fix them.

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  • Thanks the fix appears to be relatively easy but why did this happen in the first place? The charts were normal looking back in May. Sep 29, 2022 at 20:50
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    That's something only Google can answer, not Meta.SE ...
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 29, 2022 at 20:51
  • Oh, so the error is at Google's end. Sorry for the stupid question, but how can an ordinary (semi-illiterate in computers) user tell the difference between a glitch belonging to SE and one belonging to a third party? Sep 29, 2022 at 20:55
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    That's certainly hard, so a Meta question is appropriate. Wait ... you already did that :)
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 29, 2022 at 20:59
  • This link has the word "chart" embedded yet the information is perfectly visible. Sep 29, 2022 at 21:00
  • Because (just guessing) That one is just comparing single words?
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 29, 2022 at 21:02
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    Then there must be dozens of ngrams showing the same "empty" results. I'll try to see if I can find other examples elsewhere. Sep 29, 2022 at 21:04
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    Yeah, that would work, and I have a script that's capable of (being adapted towards) fixing them.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Sep 29, 2022 at 21:07
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    I think your guess is spot on, I found another empty chart posted by the same user. Sep 29, 2022 at 21:08
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    @Mari-LouAСлаваУкраїні fun thing is when looking at the markdown of that question, the first chart renders fine with the + symbol on it, the second chart doesn't render with the + symbol on it.
    – Luuklag
    Sep 30, 2022 at 8:06

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