Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Grimaced," "scowled," "grunted," "wiggled" and "gritted"

1. Ben Zimmer writes about the computational analysis of literary style -- an older topic than is usually admitted, I remember first coming upon it in introductions to collaborative Jacobean plays [Fletcher's verse is distinguishable from everyone else's because 70% of the lines have feminine endings; Middleton and Dekker use different stock exclamations in The Roaring Girle though I've forgotten what these were; etc.] -- and writes re the jargon of the novel:
Hargraves found peculiar patterns in simple words like the verb “brush.” Everybody talks about brushing their teeth, but other possible companions, like “hair,” “strand,” “lock” and “lip,” appear up to 150 times more frequently in fiction than in any other genre. “Brush” appears near “lips” when two characters’ lips brush against each other or one’s lips brush against another’s cheek — as happens so often in novels. For the hair-related collocations, Hargraves concludes that “fictional characters cannot stop playing with their hair.”
2. He incidentally corrects a misperception re "bolt upright" that I must confess to having been under. (Viz. whether people can "bolt upright" or only "verb bolt upright."

3. Zimmer's list of uncomfortable verbs reminded me of this letter about Darwin's flatulence in the LRB:
Steven Shapin writes that Darwin’s uncontrollable retching and farting seriously limited his public life (LRB, 30 June). Some years ago, to my delight, I worked out that the great man’s full name, Charles Robert Darwin, is an anagram of ‘rectal winds abhorrer’.

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