Category Archives: Phrases

What is a Ghost Word?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ghost word is definitely scary — especially if you are a lexicographer. Why? Because, at bottom, a ghost word is essentially a euphemism for a royal lexicographic f**k-up. More politely, a ghost word is a word published in a dictionary that is meaningless because it originated from an egregious mistake, eg, a typo, misreading, mispronunciation, or misinterpretation. Oops!

The term ghost word was coined by philologist Walter William Skeat in 1886. As president of the Philological Society, Skeat wanted to nip this lexicographical disaster in the bud; in a speech he highlighted this embarrassing professional blunder: “Of all the work which the Society has at various times undertaken, none has ever had so much interest for us, collectively, as the New English Dictionary. Dr. Murray [the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 to 1915] , as you will remember, wrote on one occasion a most able article, in order to justify himself in omitting from the Dictionary the word abacot, defined by Webster as “the cap of state formerly used by English kings, wrought into the figure of two crowns”. It was rightly and wisely rejected by our Editor on the ground that there is no such word, the alleged form being due to a complete mistake … due to the blunders of printers or scribes, or to the perfervid imaginations of ignorant or blundering editors… I propose, therefore, to bring under your notice a few more words of the abacot type; words which will come under our Editor’s notice in course of time, and which I have little doubt that he will reject. As it is convenient to have a short name for words of this character, I shall take leave to call them “ghost-words.”I only allow the title of ghost-words to such words, or rather forms, as have no meaning whatever.” And thus, the ghost word was born.

Related to the ghost word, is the term Nihilartikel (a mixed language portmanteau, Latin and German, literally translated, “nothing article) that is a fictitious word that is deliberately published in a dictionary to catch a plagiarist. The term was first used in German articles in the early 2000. (Those who grew up in the era of maps, may be familiar with Rand-McNally maps. They would include fake streets, known as trapstreets in cartography jargon,  in their maps in order to catch ruthless competitors who copied and sold their maps illegally.) A Nihelartikel is also known as a trap word or Mountweazel, named after a phony entry in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975) about a non-existent person named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a supposed fountain designer who became a photographer. The original fake news, as it were.

Here are some of the notable ghost words that have made it into some of the most venerated dictionaries:

dord: Perhaps the most famous of all ghost words. It was first included in Webster’s International Dictionary (second edition) in 1934. The definition was indicated as “density.” It wasn’t until five years later that an eagle-eye editor realized that the entry for dord did not have an etymology. He checked the dictionary’s extensive files and found the original paper slip; it read: “D or d, cont/ density” which was referring to abbreviations that began with the letter “D.” However, a typesetter interpreted this as “dord” with the definition of “density.” (Back then words were often written with spaces in between the letters so that lexicographers could insert pronunciation marks.) The ghost word was finally removed from the dictionary in 1947.

abacot: This ghost word made its appearance in Superman’s Glossarium published in 1664, based on the appearance of the word in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles published in 1587. This ghost word then appeared in many other English dictionaries. As Skeat mentioned in his speech, three centuries later, James Murray discovered that the word was an egregious misprint of the world bycoket, a cap or head-dress. By then, abacot was firmly entrenched in the English lexicon, with a meaning expanded to include “cap of state,” “made like a double crown,” or “worn by ancient Kings of England.”

esquivalience: This ghost word is a deliberately fake word placed by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary (2001) to catch other dictionary makers who want to steal their content. The definition was: the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.” A perfect word for the Trump administration, no? The word was invented by editor Christine Lindberg, who confessed in an interview that she used it regularly: “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

feamyng: This ghost word supposedly is a collective noun for ferrets. Lexicographer Dmitri Bormann discovered that the word is the result of a long chain of bonehead typos: from BUSYNESS to BESYNESS to FESYNES to FESNYNG to FEAMYNG.

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Read related posts:
Words Invented by Dickens
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For further reading: Beyond Language: Adventures in Words and Thoughts by Dmitri Borgmann
https://www.merriam-webster.com
https://www.futilitycloset.com/?s=esquivalience
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nihilartikel


What is the Liar Paradox?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAncient Greek philosophers loved a good paradox. Some of the most famous paradoxes were developed by Zeno of Elia, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Unfortunately, Zeno’s book of paradoxes was lost and we only know about them secondhand from Aristotle and his commentators, such as Simplicius. His most famous paradoxes focus on motion, namely, Achilles and the Tortoise and Arrow. However, our discussion today is about one overlooked writer of paradoxes — Eubulides of Miletus, one of Zeno’s contemporaries. While Zeno developed dozens of paradoxes, Eubulides came up with only seven. The most famous of them is the Liar Paradox (or Liar’s Paradox); Eubulides asked, “A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?” Here is the conundrum: is what the man says true or false? If it is true, it is false; and if it is false, it is true. So it is both true and false. WTF?

Graham Priest, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Logic: A Very Short Introduction, discusses how these paradoxes tied up philosophers in knots: “The paradox and its variations were discussed by Ancient philosophers, and have been subject to much discussion in both Medieval and modern logic. Indeed, those who have engaged with them in the 20th Century reads rather like a roll call of famous logicians of that period. But despite this attention, there is still no consensus as to how to solve such paradoxes. Solutions are legion; but the only thing that is generally agreed upon, is that all of them are problematic.” Two philosophers wrote extensively about the Liar Paradox: Theophrastus, a successor to Aristotle wrote three papyrus rolls, while Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote six. Sadly, like’s Zeno’s book, these manuscripts are lost. In fact, one scholar died trying to solve the paradox — Philitas of Cos, the first major Greek writer who was both a poet and scholar, died of insomnia. His epitaph reads: “Philitas of Cos am I / ‘Twas the Liar who made me die / And the bad nights caused thereby.”

This begs the question: why should we give a shit? That is to say, more politely, why have philosophers wrestled with this question for centuries? Why does this matter now? All good questions. Meet Philosophy Professor Bradley Dowden, CSU, Sacramento and a contributor to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy who believes that the Liar Paradox is a serious problem: “To put the Liar Paradox in perspective, it is essential to appreciate why such an apparently trivial problem is a deep problem. Solving the Liar Paradox is part of the larger project of understanding truth. Understanding truth is a difficult project that involves finding a theory of truth, or a definition of truth, or a proper analysis of the concept of truth.” Thus, at the heart of the paradox is man’s age-old quest for Truth.

Eubulides would be delighted to know that the Liar Paradox is alive and well in the modern Google Era. If you read or listen to the news each day you know what I mean. Take the President of the United States (please!). Many historians, journalists, and pundits recognize that President Trump has some difficulty discerning the truth. As former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his recently published book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.” And according to The Washington Post, that has staff dedicated to tracking the President’s lies, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims in just 263 days: “This tendency of Trump is all too familiar to The Fact Checker. He is quick to make claims full of superlatives — the greatest this and the most beautiful that — with little to no empirical evidence to support them… The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.” John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine a former presidential speechwriter, expresses it more directly, “Trump’s career has demonstrated that he lies without consequence.” And herein lies the rub: each week when Trump is confronted with the lies, this is his response: “President Trump states that the story on X is fake news.” Is it true, is it false, is it true and false? Like, Philitas of Cos, Americans are inextricably trapped in the Liar Paradox, struggling with heightened anxiety and insomnia.

Certainly, as Zeno and Eubulides have shown us, the search for truth is critically important — especially in a democracy — and worthy of attention and discussion. In his essay on Truth, Michael Glanzberg notes: Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, in the topsy-turvy Trumpian world, one has to carefully traverse the minefield of Liar Paradoxes on a daily basis to arrive at the truth.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Purpose of Education?
The Many Wacky Phobias of Donald Trump
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
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Words Related to Trump
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What is the Big Lie?

For further reading: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paradox-zeno/
http://www.iep.utm.edu/par-liar/
https://blog.oup.com/2017/08/eubulides-paradoxes-philosophy/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/10/10/president-trump-has-made-1318-false-or-misleading-claims-over-263-days/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2bbaadec15fd
http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/philosophical-issues/what-is-truth/44342.aspx
Real Time with Bill Maher, April 27, 2018


The Best Signs from March for Our Lives Events

alex atkins bookshelf cultureTo paraphrase the misquoted line from the obscure play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned.” Today, March 24, 2018, hundreds of thousands of teenagers, along with parents, teachers, and supporters, gathered in Washington D.C. and major cities around the world for the “March for Our Lives,” organized by the shooting survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One by one, with heavy hearts — and broken hearts — the teenagers filled the streets armed with signs and banners to advocate for reasonable and stricter gun control laws and to ways to make schools safer. They refer to themselves as “the mass shooting generation.” According to the medical journal, Pediatrics, guns are the third leading cause of child deaths in America. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died due to gun violence. David Hogg, one of the organizers, exclaimed: “We will not stop until every man, every woman, every child and every American can live without fear of gun violence.” Breaking through the sorrow and sense of loss, was a deep-seated rage against the political machine, corrupted by campaign finance laws and the insidious, powerful gun lobby. Rather than picking up guns, the students picked up markers and wrote out searing political statements on poster signs to tackle a problem that the complacent, apathetic Baby Boom generation created and condoned for decades in the shadow of a government that long ago abandoned its intended purpose — to represent the people and to serve the common good. Here are some of the best signs from the March for Our Lives events:

Love over lead

Book bags — not body bags

Stop the silence ending violence

Math before bloodbath

Books not bullets

Why are uteruses more regulated than guns?

School is made for ambition not ammunition

I should be writing my English paper, not my will!

We thought you were pro life

The scariest thing in a school should be my grades

The number of bullet holes in this poster are the number that can be shot in the time it takes to read it

I can’t even bring peanut butter to school

The only thing easier to buy in the USA than a gun is a Republican

The only gun that belongs in school is a glue gun

Students should be attending class not funerals

In my day “I survived high school” was not meant literally

If you need an assault weapon for hunting — you suck!

Generation Z: end of gun violence in the USA

NRA-endorsed politicians — our thoughts and prayers for you in November!

You can’t choose when to be pro-life

If we are old enough to be shot, we are old enough to have a say about gun violence

Girls clothing is more regulated than guns

Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets

If you aren’t smart enough to buy beer, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun

This is not a moment — it’s a movement. #NeverAgain

Am I next?

I am 6 — I want to see 60

We are the change

Murdered in school — and still no gun laws. How come Congress?

Protect schools not guns

My outrage does not fit on a sign

My right to live is greater than a gun

Arm teachers with pencils not guns

Thoughts & prayers, blah, blah, blah — #neveragain

How many more?

When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty

There are more laws for my pussy than for guns

The NRA is not a brancy of the US government

My grandchildren are worth more than your guns

My school district won’t give me the password to use wifi, yet you want me to carry a gun?

Are guns more precious than children

No more thoughts and prayers — we want policy and change

NRA — die bitch!

The only thing easier to buy than guns is the GOP

If only my uterus could shoot bullets, then it wouldn’t need regulation

We call BS!

Kids over campaign contributions

SINators for sale

Make America great again? Make America ours again!

One child is worth more than all the guns in America

Did you have a favorite? Please share any slogans not listed above.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking
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For further reading: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/emma-gonzalez-apos-one-biggest-153956763.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/us/student-protest-movements.html
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/gun-deaths-wars/

 

 


Most Annoying Business Phrases

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesFed up with office jargon, corporate buzzwords, or management speak (call it what you want; however these are all euphemisms for “bullshit”), the folks at Londonoffices.com conducted a survey to finally expose the most annoying office phrases. In an interview with the Daily Mail, a spokesperson discussed the problem: “There’s so much overuse of clichéd jargon and management speak used around offices now that it’s almost beyond parody.” Amen to that. One survey respondent expressed what so many people think: “I overhear colleagues using some of these phrases because they think it makes them sound clever and important, but mostly they haven’t got a clue what they’re on about.” If you think the problem is bad in Great Britain, it’s ten times worse in Silicon Valley, where “tech talk” is mixed with corporate buzzwords. Hashtag eye-rolling. So businesspeople — let’s get on the same page: stop using these 50 annoying business phrases. It’s a no-brainer!

1. Blue-sky thinking
2. Idea shower
3. To ‘action’ a project
4. Going forward
5. Brainstorm
6. Getting the ball rolling
7. Drill down
8. Out of the loop
9. Thinking outside the box
10. Touch base
11. Singing from the same hymn-sheet
12. Circle back
13. Strategic fit
14. Bottom line
15. Low hanging fruit
16. Win-win
17. Play hardball
18. Best practice
19. On my radar
20. Bench mark
21. Value added
22. To run an idea up the flagpole
23. Results driven
24. Revert
25. Game-plan
26. Hit the ground running
27. Customer centric
28. No ‘i’ in team
29. Back to the drawing-board
30. Re-inventing the wheel
31. Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s
32. Action plan
33. Bells and whistles
34. Moving the goalposts
35. Back of the net
36. On the same page
37. Open door policy
38. To ‘ping’ an email
39. Kick a project into the long grass
40. Joined up thinking
41. Pick up and run with it
42. Streamline
43. Close of play
44. To take an idea or project ‘off piste’
45. Level playing field
46. Quick win
47. In the driving seat
48. No brainer
49. To ‘park’ a project
50. ASAP

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4563616/The-50-irritating-office-jargon-terms.html


The Colorful Language of Roadside Diners

alex atkins bookshelf wordsSeveral decades ago, if you sat down at the counter of a cozy, little roadside diner and ordered breakfast, let’s say you ordered two scrambled eggs on toast, the waiter or waitress would spin around and call out to the cook, “Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck em!” These calls, known as diner or hash house lingo, were a part of the culture of roadside diners and luncheonettes that sprouted across the nation during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not only were the calls enormously entertaining, they were a very efficient way to place food orders. Although the etymology of hash house is difficult to trace, the calls that endured possessed two key qualities: they had to be whimisical, and they had to be distinct so as not to be easily confused with the calls.

As you can imagine, listening to the colorful hash house lingo was one of the appeals of visiting these diners and luncheonettes, known mainly for their menu of delicious comfort food, generous portions, and reasonable prices. Sadly, as large corporations slowly took over the operation of dining establishments, the use of hash house lingo was discouraged, and the practice steadily waned after the 1950s — while food prices steadily increased and food portions decreased. However, thanks to the efforts of Jack Smiley, who published Hash House Lingo in 1941, a dictionary of common diner slang, we can step into the past, and hear the faint echoes of those colorful food orders above the din of the rush hour:

A.C. American cheese sandwich

Bang berries: baked beans

Belch water: carbonated water

Biddies on a raft: poached eggs on toast

Black and white: black coffee with cream on the side

Canary Island: vanilla soda with chocolate ice cream

Chewed fine with a breath: hamburger with onion

Coney Island chicken: frankfurter

Cowboy on a raft: Western sandwich on toast

Dog and maggots: crackers and cheese

Dress a cackle: make an egg sandwich

Eskimo highball: ice water

First lady: spare ribs

Fly cake: raisin cake

Forever and ever: hash browns

Georgia special: Coca-Cola

Glue: tapioca pudding

Gravel: sugar

Grease spot: hamburger

Guess water: soup

Read related posts: What Would Famous Authors Order at Starbucks?
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Most Influential Authors
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The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee

For further reading: Hash House Lingo by Jack Smiley

 

 


What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesDo you know someone at work who claims to be expert at something but doesn’t have the experience or proof to back it up? Let’s say you work at a newspaper, and one of your colleagues brags that he is one of the paper’s best writers, has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize many times, and has been approached by several headhunters from other newspaper and magazines. Of course, nobody likes a braggadocio. But then you read his copy and his writing, well… sucks. And then you learn that his editor is always haranguing him about missed deadlines, sloppy reporting, and so forth. Hmm… maybe he’s not the expert he claims to be. Congrats — you have just witnessed the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. The term was coined by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, psychologists at Cornell University, in their 1999 study titled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias where a person who is incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Moreover, that individual has a false inflated sense of confidence about their supposed competence. And this, of course, is what makes these individual so annoying. Dunning points out the irony of the effect: “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.” Consequently, without appropriate management and training, such a person cannot improve because they are essentially clueless about how bad they are at a particular job. In subsequent research, Dunning has found the Dunning-Kruger Effect rampant among employees of high-tech firms and medical companies, professors at universities, and among drivers.

If you have been reading the news in the last few months, you know that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is alive and well in American politics. In an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Trump has a dangerous Disability,” political commentator George Will wrote the following about President Donald Trump’s many egregious mistakes about American history: “What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something [emphasis added].”

Yale psychologist Gordon Pennycock recently published a paper that explores the connection between the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the concept of reflectivity (a trait that can predict whether a person is likely to be highly deluded about his or her own knowledge). Pennycock found that the Dunning-Kruger Effect impacts a person ability to reason and reflect. Subjects in the study were asked to take a test of reflectivity and then asked to evaluate themselves. Most of the subjects who were unreflective believed that they did very well since they had no idea of what it meant to be reflective and thus were too incompetent to accurately evaluate their own behavior. Now think of Trump and his statements. Alarmingly, Trump lacks any modesty about his self-professed intelligence: in many interviews and appearances he has bragged that he is very well-educated, intelligent, and possesses a very high IQ. Is he highly deluded?

This leads us to our next discussion: what happens when a person who exhibits this cognitive bias is surrounded by enablers. And, in the case of Trump, this situation is amplified because he is the President of the U.S., the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. One is reminded of the famous fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that story the emperor, who is very vain and a slave to fashion, is swindled by two crafty tailors who fashion the finest clothes with fabric that can only be seen by smart or competent people. The tailors, of course, made nothing at all and the emperor falls for the con and proudly dons his “new clothes.” The pompous emperor then walks around nude (or perhaps wearing underwear, the story is not clear) in his palace, and all of his servants bow down and praise his very fine new clothes. Eager to show off his new clothes to all his subjects, the emperor organizes a parade to walk through the town. Again, like his servants, the public praises the emperor’s fine (but invisible) clothes — except for one little boy, who sees this ridiculous sight and provides a vital reality check: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” However, it is a variation of that line that endures as an idiom: “The emperor has no clothes!” One can only hope that at some point, the elected representatives in Congress and parts of the American electorate should realize that the President has no clothes.

Interestingly, long before there was any formal, scientific research, many philosophers and writers throughout history intuitively understood man’s inflated sense of intelligence or competence. Here are the different ways they expressed this universal truth:
Confucius: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Socrates: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
William Shakespeare: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (from As You Like It)
Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Bertrand Russell: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
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There’s A Word for That: Trumpery
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What is the Big Lie?

For further reading: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Brandy Lee
https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2017/01/24/the-dunning-kruger-effect-shows-why-some-people-think-theyre-great-even-when-their-work-is-terrible/#24624b915d7c

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-a-dangerous-disability/2017/05/03/56ca6118-2f6b-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.883b9bdaf4c0
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-12/trump-s-dangerous-disability-it-s-the-dunning-kruger-effect
https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-017-1242-7


Clichés that Famous Authors Use

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s a cliché by now: writing teachers admonishing students not to use clichés in their writing. You know the classroom spiel: using clichés reveals laziness in writing; it makes writing stale; it weakens the writing; blah, blah, blah. So cliché…. But if you read enough novels by famous writers — and you read them carefully — you will find clichés lurking unabashedly in the prose. So the next time an English teacher draws a red circle around a cliché in one of your papers that reduces your score, ask for some leniency by showing them this list. Here are common clichés that famous writers use in more than half their works:

Isaac Asimov (7 Foundation Series books): past history

Jane Austen (6 novels): with all my heart

Tom Clancy (13 novels): by a whisker

Clive Cussler (23 Dirk Pitt novels): wishful thinking

Theodore Dreiser (8 novels): thick and fast

James Joyce (3 novels): from the sublime to the ridiculous

George R. R. Martin (8 novels): black as pitch

Herman Melville (9 novels): through and through

J. K. Rowling (7 Harry Potter books): dead of night

J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Ring and The Hobbit): nick of time

Read related posts: Words Invented by Famous Authors
Words Invented by Famous Authors 2

Words Invented by Dickens

For further reading: Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt.


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