The I Write Like meme is running through blogdom like a virus through a second-grade classroom. Neil Gaiman tweeted,
I cut and pasted a couple of chunks of ANANSI BOYS into Write Like http://iwl.me. 1 was Stephen King, the other was J R R Tolkien. How odd.That’s actually one of its more sensible results. Stephan Zielinski’s been testing it:
Is the code even trying?And so forth. You see the problem.
If you like, you can enter text at http://iwl.me/, and it will generate an allegation that the text is written “like” that of someone famous. Now, I’m sure it’s doing something kinda computational with its input, but…H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (from here): George Orwell.
George Orwell, Burmese Days, chapter one (from here): Margaret Mitchell.
Charles Manson quotes (from here, both pages, with the words “Charles Manson” removed): Kurt Vonnegut.
Mao Tse Tung (in translation, sources of quotes removed, from here): Kurt Vonnegut.
Unabomber’s Manifesto (from here): Mario Puzo.
Hitler’s Mein Kampf, chapter one (in translation, from here): Ernest Hemingway.
Of course I had to test it. I started with the long passage about fanfic Patrick quoted from me in Fanfic: force of nature. It said I write like David Foster Wallace. That was okay; he was a good essayist. Then I tried it on Rowling’s being sued for plagiarism again, starting at “What’s really happening here” and ending at “sold to Bloomsbury.” It said I write like James Joyce. That was more puzzling. So I fed it the section on unreliable magicians from my entry at Tor.com on issue #1 of Sandman, from “Let’s look at Roderick Burgess” to “run out of time,” and it said I write like Dan Brown.
I do not write like Dan Brown. What that passage has in common with Dan Brown is vocabulary. I don’t know what they’re using as their sample of James Joyce, but I’ll bet it matches vocabulary in my piece on Rowling and plagiarism. Likewise, I’ll bet the fanfic paragraph matches the vocabulary of their David Foster Wallace sample.
Fraud! Cheat! Writing an application that could analyze prose style would be a real achievement. Writing one that compares vocabulary (and probably a few other characteristics like sentence length) is trivially easy. I’m not saying I could do it right this moment; I’m just saying it’s not hard.
Foo. Wanted cool; got balonium.
#121 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2010, 07:14 PM:
Maybe it has something to do with the author’s diet?
banana banana banana banana banana - Kurt Vonnegut
peach peach peach peach peach peach - Agatha Christie
watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon watermelon - Mark Twain
broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli - Chuck Palahniuk
steak steak steak steak steak steak - Ian Fleming
clam clam clam clam clam clam - Chuck Palahniuk
squid squid squid squid squid squid - Mario Puzo
And putting my previous comment into the mix: