Fantastic Statistics.

I first featured Justin B Rye at LH in 2005 (his Primer In SF Xenolinguistics); now, thanks to a comment by January First-of-May, I learn that he’s got a post called Fantastic Statistics in which he analyzes his extensive sf collection:

In the twenty‐first century I decided I didn’t want a paper collection anyway – what I want is a story collection. If I switched to ebooks then apart from a few sentimental‐value volumes of Teach Yourself Sumerian and the like the physical copies could go to the charity shop on the corner. This proved a fortunate idea given the number of times I’ve needed to move house recently, but electronic texts have other advantages too […]. For a start, I always convert my ebooks into a consistent HTML format so they’ll work in any browser (including my throwback of a mobile phone); but the part that got me writing this page is that once I’ve done that I can also carry out all sorts of basic text analysis from the command‐line. And thanks to all the old magazines that are out of copyright, it’s getting easier and easier to end up with a moderately comprehensive collection of the big‐name SF award‐winners of the twentieth century (and even quite a few of the ones I might actually want to re‐read). So here are some interesting facts, or at any rate facts, about my virtual bookshelf.

There are all sorts of tidbits, like Most‐Used Title (“the title that shows up most often is The End”), Famous Titles First Published Together (“the all‐time best value for money still has to be Dangerous Visions” — I still haven’t gotten over my copy, signed by many of the authors, getting lost in the mail years ago), Title Length (shortest is We, longest is the Connie Willis short story “‘The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective”), word frequencies, and the like. I will single out for special mention the section I was gladdest to see there, The Bechdel Test:

All that’s required for a story to pass this test is that it has two significant (usually meaning at least named) characters who are women and who at some point talk to one another “on‐camera” about some topic other than a man. It should be easy, right? The protagonist only has to introduce herself to the empress on page 24 and that’s it. Indeed, since novels often open with characters already in conversation, you might think a substantial proportion would be page one passes. But no: test grades that good are few and far between, and almost all of the cases I can find were published in the late nineties at the earliest. One noteworthy exception from the seventies is that Varley’s Gaea trilogy is a rare instant pass from book one, line one (in Titan).

I have to say that even going into it expecting bad news I was taken aback by how many stories full of memorable female characters that you’d swear were surefire passes prove on closer inspection never to show them interacting – they just take turns talking to, and/or about, the hero. Things have improved since the days when Jules Verne had next to no women in his stories at all, but it hasn’t exactly been a matter of steady progress since then.

Now, this test shouldn’t be mistaken for a simple diagnostic of writers’ attitudes; for a start, John W. Campbell Jr.’s tale of square‐jawed Earthmen overthrowing a matriarchy, Cloak of Aesir, qualifies as a clear pass, while Joanna Russ’s feminist classic When It Changed falls at the last hurdle – perhaps just because it’s a short story. To avoid penalising low‐wordage works, which can easily happen to be poorly supplied with dialogue opportunities without that necessarily meaning anything, I’ll carry on with my strict rule of only counting longer works (though I’m being flexible enough with the categories of “woman” and “man” that for instance Animal Farm is a pass), and I’ll aggregate the results by decade to get some overall rough figures […]

Go to the link for the figures, obviously. The section The Sausage Zone is amusing (“And then there’s A. E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle: an exploratory mission where the all‐male crew, hundreds of kiloparsecs from home, never call anything ‘she’, including the starship; they go on referring to the monsters they encounter as “he” even after one starts laying eggs in people”). The whole thing is highly recommended. Thanks, J1M!


  1. It is intereresting.

    I can’t realistically depict a conversation between two women from my social circle. I mean, I can if it is some generic conversation. But if psychologism is required and the conversation is gendered (Russian women speak to Russian women somewhat differently than Russian men to Russian men) there is a problem.

    I do put myself in my friend’s shoes when we talk, when we are discussing her interactions with other people etc. – but it is harder to put myself in her shoes when she is talking to another woman. Of course a part of this stems from the fact that I hardly ever tried (has a lot to do with genesis of gender itself).
    Even genderlect is an issue.

  2. “gendered” – someone said that when she came to Russia, she noticed that some girls walk hand in hand. She at first thoguht that they are lesbians. Just a simple example of what two boys will not do.

    Also a simple exmaple of what I call “generic” conversation (with intionations of two pilots fully consumed by a difficult maneuver):

    – приборы?
    – приборы девять.
    – что “девять?:-/
    – а что “приборы”?

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Just a simple example of what two boys will not do.

    It’s perfectly usual in much of Africa for (platonic) male friends to walk hand in hand. I think it’s actually more of a Muslim thing.

  4. John Cowan says

    Quoth WP: “In Arab countries, Africa, some parts of Asia and traditionally in some Mediterranean and Southern European cultures (especially in Sicily), males also hold hands for friendship and as a sign of respect.”

    It also says: “According to Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute, holding hands stimulates the vagus nerve, which decreases blood pressure and heart rate and puts people in a more relaxed state.”

  5. I once read about some American being very stricken by seeing two generals in the Saudi army walking hand in hand. Hurrah for cultural relativism.

    P.S. The vagus nerve passes through the trunk. I don’t see what any contact with the limbs has to do with the vagus.

  6. Trond Engen says

    Decades ago, when I took a history class, our lecturer in history of antiquity started the first lecture by showing the opening scene from The Godfather. Then he went on to show slides from a town square in Turkey. There was a whole sequence of photos of male friends holding hands in public. He explained that in a society built around personal loyalty, public display of friendship is important. This can be among equals or to present a patron-client bond.

  7. two generals
    If they hated blood and violence and explosives and did the same with enemy generals, that would be sweet. Or cultural relativism does not go that far?

  8. holding hands stimulates the vagus[?] nerve, which decreases blood pressure and heart rate and puts people in a more relaxed state

    They gave Nobel prize for something like this today.

    Russia is something in between. I remember that (male) party bosses mode of showing loyalty by hugging and kissing was cringe-inducing for a substantial part of the population.

  9. Gale L Cowan says

    If they hated blood and violence and explosives and did the same with enemy generals

    Union general Ulysses S. Grant notoriously could not endure the sight of blood, and therefore ate his steaks cooked to old-boot consistency.

  10. I had the rules of the Russian bear-hug explained to me once: arms stretched out, but diagonally, one reaching up, the other down. The other person does the same but opposite, so the four arms form an X. Approach and envelop.

  11. Nice to meet you, Gale. I have heard much about you.

  12. I remember years ago, when I was in Bologna for a week, going out in the evening and seeing pairs of Italian men walking arm in arm and stopping to look in the windows of the men’s clothing stores. I saw no reason to think they were homos (as my former mother-in-law was wont to say), simply stylish gentlemen contemplating their next suit purchase.

    Also on the subject of Italian men, there was a visit (many years ago too) of Italian politicians and others to the offices of the Washington Post to discuss, oh, who knows what. A columnist writing about the meeting noted with some astonishment that one of the senior Italian officials was wearing a dark suit, as required, but with a lilac shirt. I think the writer was both shocked, and envious that he could get away with it.

    Think of all the trouble Obama got into more recently for wearing a tan suit at a White House press briefing or some such.

  13. John Cowan says


    (It was really me.)

  14. I figured it probably was, but just in case.

  15. I was joyed earlier this year to take my daughters to see Raya and the Last Dragon, a Disney movie that I’m pretty sure fails the Ledcheb test (i.e. no free male-male dialogue).

  16. Tell Ulysses red meat is red from myoglobin in muscle, not haemoglobin in blood.

  17. John Emerson says

    In something I read it was emphasized that Albanian men rouge their cheeks. I once met a Turkish male nurse whose face was especially rosy, and I wondered if he did the same.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Turkish man-hug as observed in Vienna: First, you slam your right hands together in a far-reaching semicircular motion. Then you pull, so your right shoulders collide hard. (I’m sure it’s supposed to hurt.) Then you reach around with your left arms and pat on your left shoulders twice. If you’re related or something, you add two kisses on the cheeks. Then you let go.

  19. I think I once wrote about it. There was that bad, bad day in my life when I was hugged for selfies by several hundreds ladies and when it was over, one girl hugged me sincerely and it is one of the most memorable hugs ever.

  20. Can you give us an idea of why those hundreds of ladies wanted selfies with you? Are you by any chance a rock star?

  21. I told that story! I was helping my freind. He was running a slave market…


  22. Oh. Yikes.

  23. Stu Clayton says

    I BEFORE E EXCEPT AFTER C. Jes’ sayin’.

    Edit: Uh-oh:

    # The “I before E except after C” rule is highly inconsistent in the English language and should not be considered a solid rule. Some exceptions include “weird,” “forfeit,” “albeit,” “glacier,” and “seize,” all of which break this well known saying. #

    Apart from that, I can think of only one English word that starts with C, and is followed by an I and an E: “ceiling”.

    As a kid, I was convinced that this “rule” was both true and helpful.

  24. David Marjanović says

    I BEFORE E EXCEPT AFTER C. Jes’ sayin’.

    English spelling has lots of rules (despite numerous exceptions), but this is not one of them.

  25. Chomskian rules: a hypothetical set of rules shorter than the corpus it describes. Presumnably inborn.

    Greenbergian rules: statistical observations, like ” * is the 5th most common letter”, “1sg subject pronoun is usually “i” and is usually capitalized”.

    I think am not just to Chomsky here.

  26. “i before e except after c” works fine if you restrict it to words ending -ieve/-eive. Each extra class of words one opens it up to creates a subclass of exceptions. Here’s a handy table.

    The one word it has always helped me, personally, to spell is “niece”, for some reason.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    It works pretty well for cases where the “ie/ei” is pronounced “ee”; most of the exceptions are indubitably foreign (like “Keith”*) and therefore, by age-old British convention, Do Not Count.

    * All Keiths are foreign. Same with Nigels.

  28. At least my last name isn’t Reid, and I didn’t marry a Sheila.

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    Yes, I learnt a second verse, “and where it sounds like an A, as in neighbour and weigh”.

  30. The Meices were a ’90s pop-punk band, formerly The Mice (but someone else had had that name already). Presumably they got the name from the animated series Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, a cat (Jinks) vs. mice affair; Jinks calls the mice meeces (sic). Anyway, if the band had called themselves The Mieces, I think that would have looked equally acceptable.

  31. PP, “ceilidh” is an exception to that codicil.

    So, In the US, is “lingerie”, though not “brassiere” or “panties”.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Really? Do Americans have lingerAY?
    I Did Not Know That.

    It is conceivable (or possibly concievable) that ceilidh may not be completely Anglo-Saxon in origin, or indeed in spelling. Unlike eisteddfod, which is shown to be proper English by the way it conforms to the Rule. Nobody writes ceisteddfod. QED.

  33. lahnzh-RAY. Because.

  34. Merriam-Webster says that if you’re not doing a nasal vowel then you shouldn’t frenchify the “g” either: lahn-juh-RAY. Three syllables. Initial stress is also a possibility.

  35. Yes, I learned it as lahn-juh-RAY; it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how oddly that fitted the spelling.

  36. John Cowan says

    Here’s a better rule, with less coverage but much closer to Ausnahmslösigkeit: “If the letter C you spy, put the E before the I.” Ceiling truly is an exception; other exception classes are inflected forms of words in -cy, hiatus forms like science, unassimilated loanwords, and words with palatalization like sufficient.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    Ausnahmslosigkeit, ausnahmslos.

    An example of hyperlauting the um, as in overegging the püdding.

  38. John Cowan says

    Quite so! In my (faint) defense, I was following in the track of Nick Nicholas, who made exactly the same error on his blog and was called to account by the Hat himself. Both of us made sure the correct connective was in place and then unthinkingly hyperümläut, or perhaps even hÿpërümläüt.

    (The letter ë actually does appear in some only lightly Germanized proper names: Alëuten, Piëch, where it represents two separate syllables rather than a diphthong.)

  39. Lars Mathiesen says

    Is um separable here? Du lautetest den Vokal um. Sie haben dir gesagt es nicht umzulauten, du hast es aber umgelautet.

    Three computers ago (or five) I had a bookmark for something like the Initiative for the strengthening of German — by declining weak verbs more strongly. I bet they had something for lauten too, it almost demands it. lauten / läut / gelöten, maybe? (I think the creators were joking. I hope so).

  40. PlasticPaddy says

    Lauten as a verb seems to be used to describe the wording (Wortlaut) of a spoken or written text. DWDS gives “ihre Antwort lautete günstig” = her answer was/was worded favourable/y. So it would be difficult to add a prefix. Maybe you should try läuten instead. Umläuten would already have ä, although it gives me the picture of a bellringer changing the tempo of their bellringing.

  41. Stu Clayton says

    @PP: Umläuten would already have ä, although it gives me the picture of a bellringer changing the tempo of their bellringing.

    For me it would be not the tempo but rather the strike tone that changes.

    Umleuten is what a company does by hiring and firing.

  42. Lars Mathiesen says

    @PP. adding a prefix to a verb scotches all semantic predictability. So umlauten can mean just what I like. Innit.

  43. Stu Clayton says

    A sentence to be tried out only at home, not in public:

    ihre Antwort lautete zuerst günstig, aber zum Schluß stand sie mit dieser Meinung allein, also lautete sie sie um.

  44. @Paddy: I have seen the participles umlautend and umgelautet, which point to a weak verb umlauten with a separable prefix. Duden has an entry for this verb , but all usage examples contain participles, and I’m not sure if finite forms are attested in the wild.

  45. David Marjanović says

    Piëch and Groër are the only last names with ë I can remember. The former is remarkably similar to Pieh, but that’s pronounced like just the first syllable of Piëch.


    That’s rare enough that I had forgotten about it. It has 16,700 ghits, compared to 89,700 without the dots, the form given first on Wikipedia.

    Is um separable here?

    Definitely. It’s stressed.

    lauten / läut / gelöten, maybe?

    Too irregular. 🙂 Doesn’t fit any existing pattern.

    I think the creators were joking.


    There are some funny poems in Starckdeutsch, which is vokalkräftig und konsonantenverstärkt, i.e. vowel-powerful and consonant-reinforced, sometimes purely graphically, sometimes by semirandom fortition or by replacing reduced by semirandom unreduced vowels.

  46. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm, trond
    Maybe try lauten, liet, gelauten (raufen, rief, geraufen unfotunately suffers a collision with rufen).
    @h-w h
    There is still something not well formed in this verb umlauten, i.e., Laut is not the outcome of the verb lauten. Compare Umzug, umgezogen, er zieht um with Umlaut, umgelautet, * er lautet um.

  47. @Paddy: I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here. Why are you comparing a strong verb like umziehen with a weak verb like umlauten?
    er lautet um is the expected present tense form; it’s just that its finite forms are not normally used. Concerning its history, it’s a denominal verb from the noun Umlaut, so a weak, non-umlauting verb is to be expected.

  48. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry that was confusing and it is clear umlauten must be a back-formation of Umlaut. I suppose I meant that there is for me a dissonance between models like
    Umzug, umgezogen zieht um
    Umsatz, umgesetzt, setzt um,
    Umlauf, umgelaufen, läuft um
    Anfang, angefangen, fängt an
    with Umlaut, umgelautet, *lautet um
    It is true that most of the verbs in the first group are strong verbs, but maybe that is part of what bothers me about umlauten. With weak verbs you typically have something like
    Anstrengung, angestrengt, strengt (sich) an.

  49. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish (upholding the strength of the Germanic languages) has strong (but home made) lyde/lød/lydt. It was weak in ON and even 300 years ago in “Older Modern Danish” (lyde/lydede/lydet).

    OTOH Modern Swedish has equally strong ljuda/ljuder/ljöd/ljudit/ljuden, even though it’s supposed to be a causative formation. (Also a new denominal ljuda/ljudar/ljudade/ljudat = ‘sound out (letters)’, but we’ll ignore that).

    I don’t know if this exercise in Verbenverstärkung was independently embarked upon by Danes and Swedes, or if it reflects an old commonality. The ODS does not give first dates for forms in current use in the standard language, only representative dates for disused ones, and in any case no older than about 1700, so lød/ljöd may have been a common NE Germanic invention for all I can tell, but one that was confined to dialects until later.

    I did find a pertinent table, but it doesn’t have lyde.

  50. @Paddy: Ok, I think I see now what’s bothering you – it’s the zero-suffix*1) noun. But again, that’s simply due to the fact that the verb is derived from the noun. A verbal noun Umlautung exists as well.

    *1) At least, zero-suffix from the point of view of the modern language.

  51. @Lars Mathiesen:

    something like the Initiative for the strengthening of German — by declining weak verbs more strongly

    Following the lead of snuck, dove, drug and pet (as a past tense), I suppose?

  52. Lars Mathiesen says

    I don’t remember if they acknowledged any prior art. I last saw it 20 years ago, if not 30. It is not the Starckdeutsch of Matthias Koeppel, which is 1) pre-Internet and 2) not about better preterites.

    There might be a few genuine new (presumably analogical) strong preterites / participles in Standard German too, like your English ones or Danish lød, but I don’t know how to find them. (I only looked up lyde because of lauten, I never knew it was originally weak).

    Also E dove looks legit, the others still have a jocular tinge. There are similar “established joke forms” in Danish, for instance strikker/strak/strukket instead of strikker/strikkede/strikket (= ‘knit’). It’s also easy to come up with less ambitious strong verbs in English, just zero-derive: knit/knit/knit. As long as nobody asks you how that went in PNWG.

  53. There might be a few genuine new (presumably analogical) strong preterites / participles in Standard German too
    One I can come up with on the spot is frug as simple past for fragen “ask”, (analogical to the past of tragen “carry”, schlagen “hit, beat”), which is genuine / non-ironical and shows up even in written texts sometimes.

  54. Stu Clayton says

    It wouldn’t surprise me if someone who says/writes frug also says/writes frägt. I’ve heard both many times, and for lack of a better explanation I put it down to dialect or ignorance (due to my own ignorance of dialect).

  55. Forms with umlaut in the 2nd/3rd person singular where the standard doesn’t have it (like käuf(s)t, fräg(s)t, kömm(s)t) are definitely a feature of regional varieties, including Rheinisch.

  56. John Cowan says

    The first three have become (to varying extents) strong, but pet, when irregular at all, belongs to the irregular weak class like cast. (There is another such class, the verbs like feel, felt and say, said with vowel shortening and/or -t in the preterite.)

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