Infographic of the Day: How Horoscopes Hustle You

A chart that crunches 22,000 horoscopes shows how similar they are to each other.

It's amazing that the horoscope industry persists, with all of its chicanery and gimmicks. But persist it does, and every single day, millions of people really do feel that the alignment of stars, hundreds of light years distant, is telling them to look for a new girlfriend or buy a tighter fitting pair of pants. (Mercury rising! Sexy times!)

So how do horoscopes manage to hoodwink otherwise normal people who are presumably intelligent enough to read, feed themselves and get dressed in the morning? A clever infographic by David McCandless suggests that horoscopes rely on the simple trick of writing essentially the same thing for every sign, with a few words changed here and there to make readers feel that the information is tailored to them.


[Click to see larger version]

McCandless created the chart by looking at 22,000 horoscopes on Yahoo! Shine, and then crunching the data. It shows all 12 astrological signs, and represents both the common words that appear in their respective horoscopes, as well as the unique words, written in red. Long story short: The various horoscopes don't look so different anymore, do they? With the exception of a couple of words, presumably sprinkled in to add that unique feel, you might guess that horoscopes are all essentially the same.

That's a compelling hypothesis of how horoscopes are actually written—a person, after all, does write them, and they're bound to fall back on certain writing habits and turns of phrase.

But it's also far less of a smoking gun, in exposing the fakery behind horoscopes. For instance, you could argue that the words themselves don't really tell you what the horoscope meant— after all, "Sure feels easy" does mean anything similar to "It's easy to feel sure." Moreover, a true hardcore horoscope freak would argue that timing is everything. It doesn't matter if the words are the same over time; it matters when the fortune is given.

So while McCandless's chart pulls back the curtain on how horoscopes are made, for a full accounting of why they're such B.S., you have to rely on something a bit more subtle. Here's the immortal Carl Sagan on the subject:

Moreover, the 12 signs of the zodiac were premised on a 2,000 year old error; the dates meant to correspond with certain constellations are totally wrong today, as Bill Nye points out here:


[See the original chart at Information is Beautiful]

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  • Anand Ghurye

    Just let us carry out the same experiment in another sphere - literature . Let us put all the works of Shakespeare , Isaac Asimov , P . G. Wodehouse , James Hadley Chase , Charles Dickens , D. H. Lawrence . You will see that same words are repeated again and again , in fact you will get something just like the infographic above . Does it imply all of them were saying the same thing , over and over again ? Of course yes , they were using different combinations of same words !

    The infographic looks this way not due to the limitation of astrology but due to limitation of language and expressions - which are finite .

  • Dave

    To argue against  or "debunk" astrology would actually require study and understanding of what astrology truly is.  Professional astrologers know and would agree with you that the newspaper horoscopes are inaccurate and meaningless to an individual.

    However, this is not the study of astrology.  Astrology is a very deep subject that needs to be studied and applied over the course of many years, even decades to really grasp a true understanding of the subject matter.

    Both the Carl Sagan (who I respected very much) and Bill Nye videos sadly show complete ignorance of the subject. 

    As professional astrologers we just shake our heads and shrug off these types of superficial assaults on our art, it comes with the territory. 

  • Bruce Wayne Stanley

    This article does little more than demonstrate the author's complete lack of understanding of astrology. The watered-down interpretations of the horoscope are NOT the same thing as the full study of astrology, and "debunking" them via this infographic does not somehow prove that astrology is false. Moreover, in Western astrology the signs are connected to the seasons rather than to the constellations. All of these considerations are easily overlooked by pseudo-intellectual attempts to separate science from astrology, and excuse any real effort to learn about the study which this article is attempting to criticize.