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What do we sing about, when we sing about the body?

Hear NPR's Weekend Edition feature on the Listen study.

The thumbnails on this page, based on a sample of thousands songs, tell the story. The size of a circle corresponds to how often that part is mentioned in each genre.



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How do we talk about the body? To find out how physicality permeates cultural discourse, we compiled a set of songs, poems and religious texts that reference the body. Using images of the body as pictograms, Listen offers a fresh look at vocabulary use, ranging from the popular to the erudite.

Musical Genres
Based on a compilation of more than 10,000 songs, the piece visualizes the use of words representing body parts in popular culture. Each musical genre exhibits its own characteristic set of words, with more frequently used terms showing up as bigger images. The entrance image shows how many times different body parts are mentioned; the charts for each genre go into more detail, showing the usage of different synonyms for each part.

Body Rebus
Focusing on words that relate to the body, this piece reduces all other terms in a text to gray dots. By keeping the overall shape of the text intactóline breaks are respectedóand displaying longer words as larger dots, the viewer is presented with a telegraphic picture of physicality in written language.

Rebus of I Sing the Body Electric, by Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.