While the search trends are real, the chart in question is not.
As Super Bowl LVIII approached and the excitement of football fans intensified in early 2024, a lot of people appeared to have just one question about the event: What number is LVIII again?
It's 58, in case you were wondering, but if you didn't know it immediately you're not alone. Each year, a chart circulates online purportedly showing Google search trends for "super bowl" and "how to read roman numerals" in lock-step with each other, peaks lining up every Super Bowl season.
this graph kills me every time I see it pic.twitter.com/jLuqO36L6L
— root beer in th cowboy heel ? (@maneymonday) January 24, 2024
We'll be the first ones to point out that correlation does not equal causation, but the Super Bowl's massive popularity and its use of Roman numerals does feel like a reasonable explanation for the trend. So is the chart real? Well, yes and no.
We started by using Google Trends to test the results for ourselves but had no luck in reproducing the chart. As it turns out, searches for "super bowl" are very common, while searches for "how to read roman numerals" are not. Because Google Trends displays results as a percentage of the highest number of searches displayed on the chart, the small number of people looking up "how to read roman numerals" is absolutely dwarfed by the "super bowl" results and ends up looking like a horizontal line at 0% or 1%.
So, we moved on to trying to identify where the image came from. Using TinEye and Google's reverse image search, we found a variety of posts dating back to 2015, about year after the chart would theoretically have been created. Although we were not able to identify exactly which of these posts came first, we found comments from users at the time expressing that they had attempted to verify the chart and found it was not accurate.
As such, we conclude that the chart itself isn't real.
However, the trend very much is real. A post from the official Google Trends X account (known as Twitter at the time) from Feb. 7, 2021, shows the search results for "Roman numerals," which do indeed peak around the time of the Super Bowl each year. A corresponding blog post from Google found other interesting correlations.
Wondering what LV stands for in #SuperBowl this year? You aren't alone!
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) February 7, 2021
For those still wondering about Roman numerals, we'll save you the Google search: Different letters represent different numbers, with I equal to 1, V equal to 5, X to 10, L to 50, C to 100, D to 500 and M to 1000. If you need anything but a four or a nine, you simply write it all out. VIII is eight, LX is 60 and DCCL is 750, for instance.
With fours, nines, forties, nineties and so on, you place the smaller number before the larger number it is to be subtracted from, meaning that IV is four and IX is nine. The confusing notation is probably why the 2015 Super Bowl (XLIX / 49), is still, as of this writing, the year with the second-highest number of searches for Roman numerals, losing only to 2023's contest (Super Bowl LVII / 57).