Thursday, March 01, 2007


As part of an exercise for my writers' group I've been doing a wee bit of research on Google on the subject of odd juxtapositions when I came across this great piece:

SIPping only what is sweet, Thou dost mock at fate and care.

Browsing the other day, as is my wont, I was reminded of a rather interesting feature they served up a while back: SIPs.’s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or “SIPs”, are the most distinctive phrases in the text of books in the Search Inside!™ program. To identify SIPs, our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside! program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to all Search Inside! books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.

SIPs are not necessarily improbable within a particular book, but they are improbable relative to all books in Search Inside!. For example, most SIPs for a book on taxes are tax related. But because we display SIPs in order of their improbability score, the first SIPs will be on tax topics that this book mentions more often than other tax books. For works of fiction, SIPs tend to be distinctive word combinations that often hint at important plot elements.

And so we find that STML favourite The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad yields such predictable SIPS as “robust anarchist”, “gentlemen lodgers”, “perfect anarchist” and “old terrorist”, while William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch has the more visceral “old gash”, “old junky”, “his cock” and “sick morning”. There’s a good literary guessing game to be had here.

Likewise, Ulysses gives us the wonderful and unmistakeable “ute ute ute”, “tooraloom tooraloom tooraloom”, “base barreltone” (and the somewhat more prosaic “quaker librarian”); and I challenge you to come up with a set of words which could better describe the writings of Iain Sinclair than “retail landfill”, “soft estates”, “payroll boys”, “motorway circuit” and “orbital walk” (from London Orbital). Strange juxtapositions occur too: Walter de la Mare would probably be unimpressed to find himself grouped together with Friction 5: Best Gay Erotic Fiction under the phrase “fat cock” (“The horny old Gardener’s fast asleep; The fat cock Thrush To his nest has gone; And the dew shines bright In the rising Moon”).

I don't know why, but I just love this. I think it's because of the Spock like logic of a computer doing exactly what it's been asked to, which results in something completely daft.

The site is here It's an occasional column devoted to literary matters. Follow the link and you can try some SIP searches of your own.

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Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...


"big willy" in General Patton's War.

This is going to take up way to much of my time, i can tell.

Oh and congrats on turning 1!

8:38 pm  
Blogger Cailleach said...

This looks like fun - thanks A!

10:32 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

Yes it is good fun isn't it.

10:48 am  

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