Zipf's Law

Annalee Newitz:

Back in 1949, the linguist George Zipf noticed something odd about how often people use words in a given language. He found that a small number of words are used all the time, while the vast majority are used very rarely. If he ranked the words in order of popularity, a striking pattern emerged. The number one ranked word was always used twice as often as the second rank word, and three times as often as the third rank. He called this a rank vs. frequency rule, and found that it could also be used to describe income distributions in any given country, with the richest person making twice as much money as the next richest, and so forth.

Later dubbed Zipf’s law, the rank vs. frequency rule also works if you apply it to the sizes of cities. The city with the largest population in any country is generally twice as large as the next-biggest, and so on. Incredibly, Zipf’s law for cities has held true for every country in the world, for the past century.

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