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April 16, 2007

Near-death of a cliche?
Posted by Teresa at 05:35 AM * 56 comments

In the second post I ever put up on Making Light, Good search strings for bad writing, 08 June 2001, I said:

It’s like an infallible fishing lure for unreadable fiction: If you go to and type in “She loved him. She really loved him.”, you’ll turn up between twelve and twenty specimens of online fiction, not one single piece of which will be good. “He loved her. He really loved her.” works just as well, though the results are a bit steamier. Oddly enough, the same-sex variants, she-loved-her and he-loved-him, aren’t represented at all. I see no reason why gay writers should have denied themselves the use of this cliche in bad online fiction, but there it is. If you’re desperate, you can substitute he knew he loved him or she knew she loved her, though you have to ignore the instances where “her” is being used as a possessive rather than a pronoun.

I take more than a little pride in the search strings for bad poetry I suggested to my friend Scraps, who collects the stuff: peom and peotry. Scraps says poerty works too.

On 06 March 2003, I reported that googling on “She loved him. She really loved him.” would now turn up about forty specimens of online fiction, and that they were all still bad.

Yesterday, News You Can Bruise mentioned using my badfic search techniques to find online Powerpoint presentations they could use to play Powerpoint Karaoke. Since they’d mentioned it, I idly typed in The Fateful String to see how many pieces of online fiction it currently summons.

The results were unexpected. It turned up one article about Alan Clark, plus two and a half pieces of fiction: a dreadful RPG-based bitey vampire thing, a chapter of a Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy slash epic, and a snippet by a B.F.A. at Vanderbilt who “exhibits photographs and mixed media objects and installations.” Which is nothing.

Either Google’s latest revision of their algorithms and parameters has somehow made them tetchy about searching for that string, or we’re seeing the near-death of a durable cliche. Both seem unlikely.

At least peom still works.

Comments on Near-death of a cliche?:
#1 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:18 PM:

Microsoft's "Live Search" gives a few more hits on that string.

#2 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:21 PM:

Fortunately, a Yahoo search on the string still turns up bad fiction!

#3 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:26 PM:

What's really awesome is that while I haven't read that particular Harry/Draco saga, it's been on my list for a while -- and I've read heaps of her other stuff.

Does typing "Love is Blind" and a random fandom still work for a badfic catch-all? Lemme check... First page of Google can still call up a Buffy, Star Trek, and Harry Potter story. Star Wars is a bit iffier, as is X-Files, and Batman looks like a no-go. Based on typing "Love is Blind" anime, though, it looks as if there might be a treasure trove there if I actually knew any Japanese fandoms.

#4 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 01:46 PM:

I recently punched in "may sound like science fiction" and got approximately 19,600 hits.

(I note with smugness that my blog entry on the subject is now Google's number 1 hit!)

#5 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:16 PM:

Cliches must not be allowed to die. I will get to work immediately.

#6 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:21 PM:

This seems to call for a throwdown: submit a paragraph that uses the phrase in an interesting, amusing, 'worthy' manner.

A (feeble) submission to get the ball rolling:

...sword in hand, his bright green eyes burning with quixotic zeal. Most matriarchs her age rarely met such a vibrant, powerful hero, so she lingered with him, enjoying his lean muscular frame. Even before she finished, she knew he was the best she'd ever had. She loved him. She really loved him. Especially those eyes. With a contented sigh she stretched out on her bed of gold and with a gentle burp, wrapped her tail around the eggs...

#7 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 02:27 PM:

I see no reason why gay writers should have denied themselves the use of this cliche in bad online fiction

Possibly the experience of confusing themselves multiple times in the first paragraph over which *particular* he or she it is they're referring to, when they've got two of the same sex involved as -- given this is badfic -- they'll be no other differentiating features, puts them off?

#8 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:01 PM:

She loved him. She really loved him. But they were from different worlds, and the toxins secreted through his pores (so deadly! Such ecstacy!) ensured that their love, though it was strong enough to span the stars, could never be covalent...

#9 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:06 PM:

A propos of literary cliches, do you all already know about ?

#10 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:12 PM:


Searching google for "he loved her. He really loved her" gets eight hits.

Using the search "loved her. He really loved her" gets almost 5,000 hits, most of which seem to be fiction, and most of which seem to contain the full phrase.

It may be that google is on to you.

#11 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:18 PM:

Wait, that was strange. I'm now getting a first page of results saying 4,450 hits (it had been 4,750 before), but it's only showing 12 of them.

Am I the only one getting this?

#12 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:27 PM:

he loved him, he really loved him. And he loved him too.

#13 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Me, too, Alter S. Reiss! 3,010 results for "loved her. He really loved her", only 12 shown!

How terribly unfortunate! And it reminds me that I have not been overly joyful at my Google results in general lately. I vote we deputize John Scalzi to investigate during his appearance at Google next Friday. He can ask us all to type in incredibly outre search strings at 11:45 PDT, and then slip off as the Google employees gaze in puzzlement at their search feed marquee, the Mission: Impossible theme playing in the background...

#14 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Re #11: Nope. I'm getting something similar: for the "he loved her, he really loved her" variant, when I hit "Repeat the search with omitted results included" it tells me there are 5,000+ hits, but then goes back to 10 (or whatever) when I click through to the second page of results.

"He so loved her" gets some peoms and and badfic results, but "He totally loved her" pulls up television show discussion boards.

#15 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:40 PM:

Alter @ #11: I'm seeing the same thing too.

First page = "Results 1 - 10 of about 51,200", second page = "Results 11 - 12 of 12". This must be a side-effect of Google's recent changes to avoid link-spamming and Google-bombing.

What's really cool is that I looked at one of the dozen links it found, because it seemed so out of place amid the fanfic, and I wonder if it just might be one of the origins - the seed crystal, as it were - of the cliché!

A 1900 translation of a George Sand story, Indiana contains the sentences: Raymon loved her, he really loved her.

#16 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 03:45 PM:

I don't think that gay/lesbian fiction is missing any bad cliches, but the potential for reader confusion by using the same pronoun for two characters means that in gay/lesfic, proper names are much more frequent. "Talyn loved her. She really loved Wynter" would be the norm. (Lesbian fiction uses the letter Y the way fantasy uses the gratuitous apostrophe.)

#17 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:01 PM:

A further thought for Teresa:

This clearly indicates a change in Google, not an improvement in quality of writing nor even a switch to a new cliché.

Even in the remote chance that zillions of bad writers on the 'net had shaped up and chosen en masse to abandon the cliché - which is appallingly unlikely - most of the samples already written would continue sitting around for decades to embarrass their authors. If there is one thing we should have learned from the past Internet decade, it's that it's awfully hard to escape your past words.

#18 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:12 PM:

#16: does that mean that lesbian fantasy fanfic would have names like Ta'lyn and W'in'tyr?

#19 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:17 PM:

T'Lyn and W'N'Tyr, surely.

#20 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:18 PM:

“She loved him. She really loved him.”

Okay, I missed this the first time round, but that is so going in the current novel-in-progress!

(Along with a gothic graveyard scene on Mars and a heroine whose nipples really do go "spung!")

#21 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:23 PM:

Note that you do get many more hits if you separate the two sentences, as in: "she loved him" "she really loved him"

This search result, by the way, includes one page that google warns may harm your computer, and not just from the bad writing:

She loved him. Dear Lord, she really loved him. She didn't have time to think. His kiss left them both breathless. He tasted her, let her taste him. ... - Similar pages - Note this

#22 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:24 PM:

Reflexive backlash against the imposed vowels of the man/men hegemony, FranW?

#23 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:35 PM:

Charlie, you are an evil, evil man, and I've got to read that book!

#24 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 04:53 PM:

Note for zombie aficionados: the Google Ads I'm seeing for this comment page include one for

Dead Poets Come To Life
Dead poets, authors, artists and composers come to life at

(Turns out they're peddling umbrellas with pictures of Poe on them, and such.)

#25 ::: jalan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:50 PM:

"He hated her. He really hated her." would be a googlewhack, except it has seven words. Is the whole net Harry Potter fanfiction now?

#26 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 05:58 PM:

This may sound like science fiction, but it loved her, it really loved her. He was in the way though. Not for long.

#27 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:06 PM:

Do you think there would be a market for nipple piercing jewelry with built-in audio players, so that anybody who so desired could have nipples which go "spung!"? Perhaps the jewelry could ship with "spung!" pre-recorded, since there seems to be such demand for it.

I tend to imagine the nipples as sullenly muttering, but as there is a long tradition of "perky breasts", perhaps they should instead say it in a cheerful and perky voice. "Good morning! Spung!"

#28 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 06:55 PM:

Bill Higgins @ #23:
(Turns out they're peddling umbrellas with pictures of Poe on them, and such.)

Anti-zombie umbrellas, presumably.

#29 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:06 PM:

Google's been acting up since at least March 29th, when I had a similar problem with the phrase "brittle strategies." The Goog couldn't seem to decide how many hits it had found; it first told me 27, then proceeded to show me 42.

#30 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:07 PM:

Tell me more about this "Spung!" sound.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:49 PM:

'He loved her, he really loved her!' wailed his distraught mother as John was sentenced to death for murdering his beautiful wife Jennifer.

#32 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 08:51 PM:

Clifton - I am reminded of a joke I heard Penn Jillette do on his now defunct radio show/podcast. I am not going to think about RAH and "spung" noises.

Women complain about men never listening to women, men just stare at our breasts.

With this new breast jewelry MP3 player, men would not only be staring at women's breasts, but listening to them too.

#33 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Pixel-stained techno-peoms?

Sandy B. @ 29: If you're inquiring about why the word is being used, Heinlein used it several times to describe the behaviour of his female characters' nipples. It seems inappropriately onomatopoeic -- to me, it evokes the sound effects of, say, a Warner Brothers cartoon. (Not, I hasten to add, a cartoon where that sound was actually used for... oh, never mind.)

#34 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:10 AM:

So, Joel, you're saying that to Heinlein that was a Merrie Melodie?

(Ok, Ok. Leaving now.)

#35 ::: patch ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:44 AM:

Try "she sighed" - that's a fun one!

#36 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:10 AM:

"He loved her. He really loved her."
"Yes thanks for that enlightening update, Roger. Now—"
"He loved. He really he loved really he loved he he he really her loved he really—"
"Christ on an ether binge."
"He really he loved really loved loved loved loved loved loved—"
"Sally, send another ping to Grace. Tell her the Roger bug has happened again. We're dumping his core now, and she better haul ass down here if she wants a chance to take him apart while he's still running."

#37 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:11 AM:

Lesbian fiction uses the letter Y the way fantasy uses the gratuitous apostrophe

To compensate for all the participants being XX?

#38 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 05:21 AM:

I just tried googling "She loved him. She really loved him" and the #1 hit was...this thread. Now that's GoogleJuice.

(It asked me if I didn't want "She loved him. He really loved him." Which seemed bizarre, and when I clicked the "Did you mean..." link, I got no hits.)

#39 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 06:22 AM:

I work for google these days, though not on search. The number of hits for phrases are estimates, based on overall word frequencies (which is why Language Log et al treating them as meaningful statistics is a bit worrying).
Nice to hear Scalzi is coming to visit though.

#40 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:40 AM:

Your "peom" thing is like the way you can often find cheap places to stay by searching on "accomodation" and the city name.

I wonder if "wierd" finds bad Lovecraft-fic?

#41 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:47 AM:

If that doesn't work, try:
"He looked like he had a squid in his mouth. He really looked like he had a squid in his mouth."

#42 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:54 AM:

> I wonder if "wierd" finds bad Lovecraft-fic?

Too many hits. "wierd squamous" only has 1,370, but at least as many about cancer as Lovecraft.
"wierd rugose" looks slightly more promising, but still not very well targeted.
"wierd squamous rugose" does find a Making Light post as #2....

#43 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 09:59 AM:

#16 FranW: "(Lesbian fiction uses the letter Y the way fantasy uses the gratuitous apostrophe.)"

How very counter-intuitive.

#28 Mary Dell: Cue argument over the relative utility of umbrellas as anti-zombie weapons (Jim Macdonald ably representing the chainsaw delegation), segueing to a discussion about the potential of trick umbrellas like the Penguin's (tangent into the possibilities of Batman vs. zombie fanfic, secondary tangent into possible Batman/Penguin slash, ending abruptly with a link to said slashfic), eventually devolving into one's possible reactions to encountering a zombie author (set them on fire or throw them a typewriter?).

That ought to be good for a couple hundred posts, eh?

#44 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 10:25 AM:

These are a bit obvious to be new and interesting...

She loved HIM. She really loved HIM. But His Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of Japan, could never marry a gaijin.

She loved "Him". She really loved "Him". The rest of Buffy season 7 seriously sucked but she could watch "Him" all day.

#45 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 11:45 AM:

She loved "She loved him. She really loved him". She really loved "She loved him. She really loved him". As a fiction editor, she was a connoisseur of bad prose, and this was as sure a route to the motherlode as a cable car leading directly to the summit of the European Union's 6,000-foot stockpile of Robert Howard novels.

#46 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:41 PM:

I made a browser search for the hoariest of all movie-trailer clichés... and here's the result:

A) +"that will change their lives forever":
29,300 hits
Top result in search:
The book "The Cayman Trench Caribbean Intrigue and Killer Diving Hold a Secret That Will Change Their Lives Forever" [sic]
...from AuthorHouse.

B) +"that will change her life forever"
4,860 hits
Among the top 3 results:
2 Fan Fictions.

C) +"that will change his life forever"
10,800 hits

#47 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Or "Who went looking for $OBJECT ... and found themselves." Commoner in voiceovers than taglines, so tricky to search for.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 01:05 PM:

Lovecraftian fanfic... Was it squamous, rugose, or merely verbose?

#49 ::: RedMolly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 02:55 PM:

The organ surged, sending deep shudders up her spine and down her quivering legs. A seeming choir of angels trilled in unison, and her lips moved along with theirs. "Praise God," she cried, "from whom all blessings flow!"

She loved hymns. She really loved hymns.

#50 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 03:40 PM:

And now or shortly, of course, googling on that phrase, will bring up pointers to Making Light...

“She loved him. She really loved him.”

Welcome to Heisenberg's realm, where the act of measurement/mention changes the results....

It's an iterative universe....

#51 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 07:13 PM:

"She loved him preceded by itself in quote
marks yields 'she loved him'", breathed Godel as he gazed self-referentially at his love.

#52 ::: Will A ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2007, 08:17 PM:

More on audible breasts.

#53 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2007, 10:55 AM:

She loves him, yeah, yeah, yeah.

#54 ::: Jeffrey Kramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2007, 12:49 AM:

# 46 A.R. Yngve: With 30,900 hits, "learn the true meaning of" seems to edge out "will change their lives forever." The ultimate Hallmark TV trailer would presumably include both, along with "heartwarming" and "uplifting."

#55 ::: Heresiarch sees (Chinese) spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2007, 07:33 AM:

About, appropriately enough, tumours.

#56 ::: Gabrielle ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Well, we all love a hot steamy love story?

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