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November 16, 2012

Obvious nonsense about SF sales history
Posted by Patrick at 07:20 AM *

The Publishers Weekly Twitter account links to a “Book Patrol Infographic” purporting to show “The Bestselling Sci-Fi Books of All Time.” A better title for it would have been “Some Miscellaneous Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, Decorated With a Bunch of Numbers We Pulled Out of Our Hat.”

It notes that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is “by far PKD’s bestseller” (which is probably true) and then asserts that it has sold 32,500 copies, which is absurd. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was initially a Doubleday hardcover in 1968, and was reprinted as Signet mass-market paperback in 1969. Based on what we know about the distribution of midlist SF paperbacks then, it almost certainly sold more copies than that in its first year alone, quite possibly by thousands of copies. Thirteen years later, of course, it was the basis for the movie Blade Runner, and was reissued all over the world in a variety of tie-in editions, some with the original title and some retitled with the name of the movie. It has quite possibly sold over a million copies. If it’s sold less than half a million, I will—to quote Princeton Election Consortium poll-aggregator Sam Wang—eat a bug.

It says that Robert A. Heinlein’s Hugo-winning 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has sold “well over 1,500 copies…to date.” In other news, the Empire State Building is “well over” ten feet tall. We’ve sold way more copies than that, and we’re not even its first publisher.

It notes that Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand League Under the Sea has been “translated into 147 languages” and that it has sold “over 10,000 copies”. Ten thousand copies would be about 68 per language. Do you suppose it might actually have sold a few more than that? Did they put this “infographic” together in their sleep?

Book Patrol subtitles itself “a haven for book culture.” Call me pedantic, but it seems to me that people who care about “havens” for any kind of “culture” ought to also care about facts, and getting them right. The most cursory knowledge of the history of book publishing—for instance, knowledge of the quantities in which mass-market paperbacks were distributed in the 1960s—would tell you that some of these figures are absurd. Shame on Book Patrol for polluting the world with ahistorical baloney, and shame on Publishers Weekly for promoting it.

UPDATE: Shame on the New Yorker’s blog for doing the same thing.

Comments on Obvious nonsense about SF sales history:
#1 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:13 AM:

I'm guessing someone got access to a bookscan account for a day and looked at sales numbers for the most recent editions.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:30 AM:

Ow. Ow.

(Oh my, they let a kid collect their data for them? It sounds like a grade-school book report. From an earlier grade.)

#3 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:30 AM:

One used to see from time to time the claim that Keri Hulme's Booker-winning The Bone People had only sold 10,000 copies, or 2,000 copies, or something like that. If these figures weren't made up they probably relate to the first NZ edition. Cumulative world sales are orders of magnitude bigger than this, of course.

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:31 AM:

I thought of that, but even without quoting Bookscan in public (which is a TOS violation), I can say that the "infographic" doesn't remotely match up with their numbers, either.

#5 ::: Steve Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:34 AM:

Looks like somebody dropped a few zeroes there.

#6 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:40 AM:

As I recall, Dhalgren reached the million mark some time ago. Also, note that the only female author on the list is Mary Shelley. (Where are Le Guin and McCaffrey, for example.)

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:44 AM:

It says that Robert A. Heinlein’s Hugo-winning 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has sold “well over 1,500 copies…to date.”

I'm morally certain that readers of this blog, and people within one degree of separation of them, can account for "well over 1,500 copies" on our own.

Given that, I don't know what the rest of the world has been reading.

#8 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:52 AM:

The Book Patrol infographic has a caption for Twenty Thousand Leauges Under The Sea. The Leauge will take MEASURES.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:58 AM:

Fortunately, I long ago passed the initiation test for the Astral Leauge.

#10 ::: parkrrrr ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:07 AM:

Shirley the Leauge will take MEAUSRES.

#11 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:21 AM:

And we will all QIUVER in terror....

#12 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:27 AM:

Uch, and the layout and design is unbearable. Foundation appears twic, as "Series" and "Trilogy", and I don't think either year listed is accurate for either. It reads like a parody did-you-know box from America: The Book. (325,000 copies sold... IN JAPAN).

Every single entry is objectionable in some way. This has to be a joke.

#13 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:35 AM:

I have some apples! And some oranges! And a platypus, a piece of Roman tile, and a 9000 year old dildo collector! Let me compare them with sales in Japan and numbers I made up because they looked nice in the fonts I chose!

Surely nobody cares about the actual facts when they look at this kind of stuff!

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:43 AM:

[*]:

I believe Jo is referring to the famous passage from the New York Times, frequently cited as an argument for the use of the serial or "Oxford" comma: "By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

#15 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:50 AM:

Walmart: More than 1000 employees.

This reminds me of the fact-checking story a journalist friend told me ages ago:

"John Smith has the biggest private bug collection in the US." (This could be checked fairly easily, but instead)

-->"The collection, which Smith says is the largest private collection in the US."
--> "John Smith's collection is among the largest in the US"
--> "John Smith has a very large bug collection"

and then, as the story is being sent to press at 2 in the morning, because one of the senior editors heard something interesting at a cocktail party

"The rufous-eared stag beetle [photo below from the collection of John Smythe] can live in hibernation for as long as 270 years."

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:11 AM:

PNH @14:

Thanks for the explanation; I'd never run across that one before. I really do need to figure out how to incorporate it into the Bigglethwaite & Windemere entry on the Oxford comma.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:16 AM:

I know the typographical errors aren't as significant as the numerical ones, but couldn't they have gotten someone to proofread that thing? The punctuation is atrocious, especially the em-dashes.

Back to the bibliographical goofs: not only is the Lensman series not "the first set of science fiction novels conceived as a series," it's not even the first series by Doc Smith -- the Skylark books preceded it. (I'm not sure it's possible to say for certain who wrote the first series conceived ab initio as a series.)

Also, "First Lensman was first published as a hardcover book in 1950" is misleading. I'm not sure of its first hardcover date, but it was first published in Amazing in 1931, where it was immensely popular and influential.

I'm aware that I may be criticized for speaking too harshly when I say this, but they didn't even check that thing against Wikipedia.

#18 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:23 AM:

They're readers, not mathematicians, dammit!

Wow, must be a shortage of zeros somewhere.

#19 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:25 AM:

Okay, they're book people, not number people. Even so...not one of those numbers looks remotely reasonable. Even if the writer didn't catch it, aren't they editing things these days?

#20 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:25 AM:

TNH quoth:
Also, "First Lensman was first published as a hardcover book in 1950" is misleading. I'm not sure of its first hardcover date, but it was first published in Amazing in 1931, where it was immensely popular and influential.

The Fount of All Knowledge has its first release in hardcover in 1950, and notes that (though it was chronologically the second) it was the last of the Lensman books to be written.

#21 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:30 AM:

Among the other innumerable errors, they apparently believe the author of Ender's Game has dropped his last name.

#22 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:33 AM:

"First Lensman" was an original novel meant to bridge the retrofitted "Triplanetary" and the first publsihed Lens novel "Galactic Patrol."


As for the list ... so much wrong with it. Painful.

#23 ::: Stephanie Leary ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:41 AM:

Even if its numbers were accurate, it'd still be a piss-poor infographic. It's more like a list of books with some decoration. It offers no comparisons between the numbers. Could we have a bar chart, please, or maybe they could just vary the size of the book icon to indicate relative sales? Some books (Gateway, The Stars My Destination) don't have sales numbers at all. I guess they were included because the creator liked them and just knew they were influential, and someone must have bought a handful of copies at some point, right?

The list of "sources" hurts my head.

#24 ::: David Langford ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:45 AM:

I like the delicate sequitur of "The Forever War ,published in 1974 has sold well over a million copies" ... "A Fire Upon The Deep, Vernor Vinge, 1992, covers an equally large array of subjects." Well over a million subjects! Yay!

(Subtext: "We think we can risk 'Vinge' but 'Haldeman' looks a bit long and hard to spell.")

#25 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:47 AM:

butz! we used teh Fotoshop! Kewl grafix!

#26 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 11:32 AM:

I wonder how one could estimate the readership of these books, as opposed to their sales figures? The comically low sales figures in the infographic are one thing, but 'over 250 million' for LOTR struck me as a bit on the large size; 250 million readers worldwide would be plausible. Most of my SF has come from second-hand shops or libraries. Perhaps one in 50 books I bought new. Is this typical?

A year or two ago a colleague showed me an article in a print copy of the New Statesman, an actual print copy. I've read bits of the NS online for years but hadn't handled a print copy since the 90s. This reminded me of how file-sharing was done in the old days: you sat on one of the comfy seats in the Periodicals section of the university library, identified who was reading the magazine you wanted, and read something else for a while and waited to pounce when they put it back on the shelf. NS must have had a readership of 10 or 20 times its circulation. Non-purchasers Getting A Free Ride is as old as print. (Did Morwenna Phelps ever buy a single new book? I forget.)

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 11:49 AM:

Madeleine, #19: It's a blog entry. I don't think most blogs have editors.

#28 ::: Emmers ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:00 PM:

McDonald's: Dozens and Dozens Served!

#29 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:30 PM:

The Astral Leauge seems to be in the spirit of The Great Spider.

How do you pronounce leauge? I make it leege (soft g), but arguably the 'eau' should be pronounced as in 'beautiful' except that I can't.

#9 Steve

Ow. Possibly you should take MEAUSRES, though.

Ben Hecht's autobiography mentions journalists (or maybe just him) inventing an earthquake in Chicago. They were giants in those days.

I just read RA Wilson's Email to the Universe which has a great deal about the unreliability of a lot of what's in people's minds. One of my favorite bits from Illuminatus! was about a man who had file cabinets full of material about the first Kennedy assassination, in the hopes that someday he'd find one more piece of information which would make it all make sense. Little did he realize that a great deal of it was people lying to cover their asses, and a lot of the rest was people just making things up.

None of which is intended to say that it's bad to care about statements being accurate or that it's not worth slagging nonsense presented as factual-- it's just that a lot of people don't care about accuracy and a small proportion actively oppose it.

#30 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:32 PM:

I note that there are no comments offered at the Book Patrol post. Should I take it as a consensus that it's the better part of prudence and/or charity to not post a link to this discussion?

#31 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Oh dear. My high-school child has to put together a blog "with researched facts" for a class. (The phrase in quotes was from the teacher, and has become an instant dinner-table catchphrase.) Even with the minimal standards she suspects will lower the bar, she would still flunk the project with this, um, research. The big question is simple: Why did PW link to this?

#32 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:49 PM:

SF/F is clearly a genre which no one reads except a few nerds -- that's the take-home message.

Next question: If so, why are these books in print?

#33 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 12:54 PM:

I would pronounce 'leauge' as 'loge' ('eau' as in beau).

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 02:00 PM:

How far does this have to be wrong before a well-known publisher, in these parts, can justify the corporate lawyers sending a stiff letter, requesting an apology for publishing such falsohoods?

#35 ::: Keith Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 02:06 PM:

Steve with a book @ 26:

+250 million for LotR isn't that far fetched, as A) they could be including all the various volumes and omnibus editions separately, B) it's been around the block a few times and C) there was a great honking movie trilogy made from it, which tends to bolster sales (Cloud Atlas became a best seller again because of a movie that was, from what I gather, rather lackluster and not even remotely as popular as the LotR films).

LotR readership is easily double that I should think. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to rush out and 'shop an infographic saying just that!

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 02:41 PM:

Nancy, #30: Comments must be approved before they will appear. I offered a fairly restrained criticism ("Do your homework and try again" was the gist of it), which I do not expect to see approved. Nor would I expect to see a link to this discussion being approved -- too embarrassing.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 02:42 PM:

I've been looking at other articles from the Book Patrol site, and I'm getting the impression that the proprietor -- one Michael Lieberman -- doesn't know nearly as much about books and publishing as he thinks he does.

His most recent entry makes a hash of the history of advertising on dust jackets. A couple of entries back, he illustrated a piece called "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll: Collecting the Counterculture" with cover images of works whose first publication dates, near as I can make out, range from 1900 and 1935 to 1976. (Also, if you're going for the sex&drugs&rock'n'roll angle, you don't want the elegantly subdued first paperback edition of On the Road; you want the Pan or Signet covers. Jeez.)

I'm disturbed by How an idea becomes a book: an amusing infographic, which is on the site's shortlist of its most popular entries. First, it's full of errors that no one who knows publishing would make. More on that in a moment.

Second, it appears to me to owe a bit too much to a full-page cartoon about how an idea becomes a book. Does anyone else remember it? It was published some years ago. It might have been by David Macaulay, and if so it probably came out a bit after The Way Things Work. It was rendered in a medium-fine, somewhat wandering line, and IIRC it was printed on newsprint in a tabloid-ish trim size. In one panel, the review copies get sent to Swedish radio stations.

Now back to the errors. The very first decision point in the flowchart is "person is a normal human being," in which case the book goes through all the rigamarole of editing, packaging, and marketing, or "person is Stephen King, Lady Gaga, or reality show star," in which case the book is immediately approved as-is and sent to the printer.

That's a bad sign. The idea that publishers are only interested in books by bestselling authors or celebrities is a vulgar error that's constantly traded back and forth by frustrated unpublished writers, and occasionally by staff at major newspapers. As a marker for ignorance, it's right up there with believing that Obama is a Muslim. The same goes for the idea that books by bestselling authors and/or celebrities get sent straight to press. If you've had any contact with the process at all, you know they always get a lot of packaging and marketing attention.

The flowchart continues as it began. Sales reps are part of the early in-house editing and planning process. (No.) If the book idea is good but the author isn't, the editor writes the book for them. (No again if fiction; mostly no if nonfiction.) The role of the managing editor, the art director, and the marketing department is played by a Creative Director, which in my experience is a species native to ad agencies. Typesetters have no role at all -- the manuscript goes from copyedit to design to first-pass pages. And after proofreading, one of the options is "Intern accidentally deletes entire book while entering corrections," which is simply not possible and may be illegal.

The most remarkable error is the "manuscript goes to copyediting" sequence, which has two possible outcomes: either the copyedit goes well, or the copyeditor declares it the worst book ever and quits. That's so wrong. If you have any contact with professional writers or publishing types, you will sooner or later hear tales of memorable copyedits, nearly all of which will involve the copyeditor not quitting and the copyedit not turning out well.

My rough estimate is that I could write for a solid month without exhausting the comment-worthy errors on that site. I won't. People are always being wrong on the internet. What makes this one worth noticing at all is that Book Patrol is so confidently and elaborately wrong that it's liable to be mistaken for real information.

#38 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 03:21 PM:

There are three source URLs at the bottom, but I'm too lazy to retype them.

The thing's not even an infographic. An actual infographic is something like a chart, a visual display of information in a form that shows the relevant data and relationships visually. This thing mixes and matches different types of data (the original edition of Stranger in a Strange Land sold more than 1M copies, the first hardcover edition of First Lensman had a cover price of $3, 2001 A Space Odyssey sold 235,000 copies in Japan, the ebook edition of A Fire Upon the Deep sold over 3,000 copies in the first 24 hours, etc), and doesn't actually do anything to represent the magnitudes of the data, or show relationships.

It's not an infographic, just a bunch of decorated blurbs.

#39 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 03:29 PM:

Patrick @9: The reference sources are in error. It was possible to join the Astral Leauge without paying 50p, but only if you could do the astral pole thing, and successfully performed a couple of other stunts that can only be managed by someone with congenitally over-flexible joints.

I gave him the 50p anyway.

Jo Walton @13: Which, if seen from very far away, look like insects.

Madeleine @19: The numbers make no sense. I've always loved A Canticle for Leibowitz, but I wouldn't have thought it belonged on an all-time bestseller list. Can it really have outsold Lois Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Greg Bear, and the traditional Host of Others?

For reasons far too convoluted to go into here, it makes me wonder where Michael Lieberman went to high school.

David Langford @24: Is there an adjectival form of "panopticon"? I might have a word for your judgement if there were.

Steve @26: Mori Phelps does buy new books, but her funds and her access to bookstores are limited.

Lee @27, most sites that do elaborate infographics have more than one person on staff. In any event, it's odd to put that much work into an infographic without first running the text through a spellchecker. MSWord wouldn't have caught the factual errors, but it would have flagged quite a few of the mechanical ones, especially if its grammar-checking option was selected.

Nancy Lebovitz @29: Loog.

Laura @31: It looked like the sort of the people link to and enjoy. I'm not kidding. Quick-on-the-button blogging and tweeting does not reward slow, thoughtful reading.

Dave Bell @34: Legal action would just publicize the misinformation, and "it's on a top ten list" is more memorable than the bad sales figures, which many people won't read anyway. It's better to put the resources and effort into one's own publicity, and trust it will cancel out any erroneous impressions.

#40 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 03:32 PM:

Oogh. Bad data, and hideous visualization. I want to show that to a labmate who studies data visualization, just to watch the fireworks.

#41 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:05 PM:

I'm rather reminded of trying to compare unit prices between brands at the grocery store, only to find that one is labeled by price per ounce and the other by price per 100-count.

#42 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:05 PM:

Dave Langford writes in #24:

I like the delicate sequitur of "The Forever War ,published in 1974 has sold well over a million copies" ... "A Fire Upon The Deep, Vernor Vinge, 1992, covers an equally large array of subjects." Well over a million subjects! Yay!

When contemplating Things There Are a Million of in A Fire Upon the Deep, one wonders whether intentional or unintentional irony is at work here.

#43 ::: Michael Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:15 PM:

Hello,

Thanks for all the feedback, my apologizes for not being clearer in the post about the origin of the "infographic.'

It was not created by book patrol nor could I find an actual source. I was hesitant to post it at first but felt it worthy for the visual rendering of the information, I titled it exactly as it appears in the image.

An errata coming shortly with link to this thread.

#44 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:17 PM:

I just don't think I'll look at the site. From the quotes here, bringing a bookseller's perspective to it would be dangerous. Not to mention a data analyst's perspective. Sigh.

#45 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:41 PM:

So... if one did set out to make a list of The Best-Selling Science Fiction Books of All Time, how would one go about it?

I gather that sales figures are proprietary, so not easy to obtain from publishers.

#46 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:48 PM:

Oh, for heaven's sake. I did a quick local-library search on The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress [title], and came up with 21 copies. That's just local--it doesn't even include the major urban library system in the area (Chicago) or the most of the state of Illinois. Anyone want to check the WorldCat numbers? This is just silly.

#47 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:50 PM:

Michael Lieberman's #43 was gnomed for a while. It should be pointed out now.

#48 ::: hannakr ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:53 PM:

If anyone is curious about the sources but didn't feel like re-typing the urls, here they are in link form (I hope):
The Top 10 Best Science Fiction Books
Top 15 Great Science Fiction Books
The Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time

Not that they'll help much. None of those mention sales figures. However, the first one does have the origin of that "equally large array of subjects" Dave Lanford at #24 mentioned. The paragraph that goes with A Fire Upon The Deep starts with the sentence: "Written in Vinge's usual complex style, this novel covers an equally large array of subjects."

So not only is that infographic poorly done, it isn't even original in its badness!

#49 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 04:58 PM:

Before getting to various other theories, I was pronouncing "leauge" as "lee-yooge." Upon further consideration, I'm still pronouncing it that way, but I won't be offended if no one else does. I'm sure you're all vastly relieved.

#50 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 05:31 PM:

Oh dear. The New Yorker has linked to it.

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 05:40 PM:

Avram @38: The weird thing about the three URLs at the bottom is that they aren't text. They're an image that links to a stashed version of the Book Patrol infographic. I did indeed have to retype them to look at the sources.

The first URL, http://www.scifinow.co.uk/top-tens/ten-of-the-bestscience-fiction-novels/, no longer works, but the page is still available via Google cache. The article is by James Rundle. He doesn't say top sellers, just best. Here's his list:

1. The Stars My Destination
2. The Foundation Trilogy
3. A Fire Upon The Deep
4. Childhood’s End
5. The Forever War
6. We
7. Flowers For Algernon
8. A Canticle For Leibowitz
9. Ender’s Game
10. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

Which is respectable.

The second link is at ListVerse.com, Top 15 Great Science Fiction Books by JFrater, with Ryan Sweeney and Fritha Keith acknowledged as contributors.

1. The Time Machine
2. Stranger in a Strange Land
3. First Lensman
4. 2001
5. Fahrenheit 451
6. The Foundation Series
7. Slaughterhouse-5
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
9. Dune
10. Neuromancer
11. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
12. Gateway
13. Ender's Game
14. 1984
15. Brave New World

You can tell that's a group effort.

The third and most interesting list is Mrunal Belvalkar's The Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time at Buzzle.com.

It's divided into three sections. The first, "Pioneers of Science Fiction," has bios of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stephenson, and H. G. Wells. The second section is his best-of list. It's unnumbered:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I Am Legend
Ender's Game
Brave New World
Stranger in a Strange Land
Animal Farm
2001: A Space Odyssey
Childhood's End
The Forever War
Dune
Neuromancer
I, Robot
The Book of the New Sun

The third section, "Famous Science Fiction Authors," recommends reading Iain Banks, Stanislaw Lem, Carol Emshwiller, Elizabeth Hand, and Jack Womack, and finishes with short bios of Philip K. Dick., J. G. Ballard, and Jack Vance. Can't argue with that.

The second section, the actual best-of list, is enthusiastically augmented with interesting facts about the books, many of which were plundered by the Book Patrol version. Unfortunately, some of the facts are a bit shaky. Here he is on The Book of the New Sun:

Quick Fact: Many of the words used in the book are not true English words and were, in fact, invented by the author! For example, the word "fuligin" used to describe Severian's torturer's cloak that was "a color that is darker than black", is not a true word!
No blame implied. I suspect Mrunal Belvalkar is a very fluent ESL speaker; and besides, Gene Wolfe could trip up anyone.

Some observations. First, there's a great deal of variation in the tone and quality of Lieberman's book descriptions, and some of them read like promo or jacket copy. He's not speaking from personal experience.

Second, none of the source lists are reference-grade sources. Neither Lloyd Curry nor Locus nor the ISFDB is hard to find, and even a grass-green novice can check Wikipedia.

Third, the only title on Michael Lieberman's list that isn't on one of the source lists is LOTR, and the reason it's not there is because it isn't science fiction. Why include it? At a guess, because it's easy to find claims that it's the all-time bestselling work in our genre.

It's the rest of the list that's hard to document, especially if you don't think to look at Wikipedia's unified list of bestsellers. Lieberman didn't. If he had, his numbers would still be highly approximate but they'd make more sense than they do. Also, he'd include A Wrinkle in Time. I find its absence significant.

Fourth, none of the source lists say that their books are the best-selling SF novels of all time. They're personal selections. Good on 'em for including A Canticle for Leibowitz, but its presence is no guarantee that it sold all that well.

Since A Wrinkle in Time wasn't on any of the source lists but should have been on Lieberman's list, I have to think that he didn't do any additional research. He cobbled together the three lists, dusted the result with factoids, and gave it a false new label. It's that misrepresentation that moves his infographic out of the "badly researched" category and into "culpable hackwork."

There are always people being wrong on the internet, but most of them are trying harder than that to get it right.

#52 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 05:41 PM:

Michael Lieberman @ 43 - Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what you're saying, doesn't that mean you're publishing someone else's work as your own without attribution? Or in other words, infringing their copyright?

Maybe you should put that information in your updates about that particular lack-of-info-graphic as well.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Michael Lieberman @43: I confess I'm having trouble believing the infographic is not your work. It's got the same line at the end, "Posted by Michael Lieberman", that appears on all of your other entries. Its writing style, ideation, graphic design, and the quality of its content is much like your other entries.

Also, "That's not actually my own work"? Undergraduate excuse #1.

However, let's momentarily assume for the sake of argument that you didn't create it.

You lifted an entire article, but you can't recall where you got it? Awfully careless, don't you think?

In fact, you lifted an entire article, put your own name on it, and published it on a site from which you derive advertising income? That's more than carelessness.

#54 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 06:14 PM:

Sigh. I would have loved to leave a comment on the New Yorker piece calling them for that link, but they require an account (and don't allow external authentication via any of the usual suspects).

Incidentally, congratulations -- this post has now received well over a dozen comments.

#55 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 06:38 PM:

As I predicted, my comment has not been approved for posting. And his "update" closes with one of the classic troll tropes: "Yikes, I hit a nerve." Apparently the idea that he could be wrong about anything is unfamiliar territory.

#56 ::: Michael Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 06:39 PM:

#53

Your entitled to your opinion -and may believe what you want to believe- but please-

Your are aware that every time you post something on a blog it has your name on it - regardless of where the content originates. Posted does not = originally created by.

you will find the link to my source for the infographic under the image marked "via". I was hoping to find the original source

oh and I went to Hewlett High School, Long Island NY and graduated in 1980.

I will be happy to send you the $15 in advertising revenue i'll get this month from google

#57 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 06:46 PM:

I actually know the sales listed for Ender's Game are wrong. Perhaps not technically wrong, but significantly wrong in implication. I am assuming that the rest of it is just as inaccurate.

It's a shame that PW has linked to this nonsense.

#58 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:06 PM:

TNH #53: Hmm. Looks like it's time to make some popcorn.

#59 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:12 PM:

I've got my stick and blindfold.

#60 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:21 PM:

Michael Lieberman @56:

YOU need a copy editor -- the first thing out of your keyboard on this post is:

"Your entitled to your opinion"

Which should read, "You're entitled to your opinion"

Were you even aware that you're posting on a website owned by folks who are editors at Tor Books? They publish that odd genre known as Science Fiction...

#61 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:26 PM:

Am off running an errand. Fluorosphere, piñata; piñata, Fluorosphere.

#62 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:28 PM:

Really hit a nerve, eh?

Y'know that thing called "copyright"?

So, "Posted does not = originally created by." Tell me, do you have the permission of the person who did create it? How did you get that permission without knowing the creator's name?

#63 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:28 PM:

Dave Harmon @58, I'd like cheese on mine, please... <munch munch>

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:37 PM:

I'll have to wait until I get home to see whether my computer's unrefreshed version of that page has "via" on it.

===

PW, New Yorker, if you're reading this, Beth Meacham @57 is Orson Scott Card's editor.

#65 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:44 PM:

He got it from here, which in turn gives credit to this site, where I haven't yet found it.

#66 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 07:51 PM:

Mr. Lieberman repeats a claim of James Rundle's. At the risk of piling on, to say nothing of nitpicking, I think that Alfred Bester's best-known novel is not The Stars My Destination (much as I love it better) but rather The Demolished Man.

Google NGram Viewer suggests that TDM has been mentioned it books and magazines mentioned more often that TSMD. To be sure, the gap has closed in the past two decades or so, during which TDM's frequency has declined while TSMD's remained about flat. Indeed, the younger book is slightly ahead of the older in Google's most recent data (2008), but I feel the "best-known" claim remains shaky.

I can dramatize this trend using cool new features recently added to NGram Viewer, but possibly at some risk of bewildering my fellow correspondents.

#67 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:07 PM:

Teresa 39: Oh no! I never joined because I thought you had to BOTH do the pole thing AND pay D West 50p! I could never do the pole thing and therefore gave up.

How different my life could have been, all these years.

(Not that I would know 50p if they bit me. Or two-bit me.)

====

Am I the only one who thinks Michael Lieberman might have been only too eager to use the free term paper, free term paper, free term paper?

#68 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:13 PM:

TNH #64: I'll have to wait until I get home to see whether my computer's unrefreshed version of that page has "via" on it.

I can answer that question for you: Nope!

Screenshot anon.

#70 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 08:57 PM:

All right, so I did look. The Childhood's End entry is another one that won't pass a laugh test. The simultaneous hb/mmpb that Ballantine did in 1953 could just barely possibly have been 210,000 copies, but I'd sincerely doubt it. The hb was at most a few thousand. But does anyone believe that a mass market pb, published in 1953, had a 100% (or even 80%) sell-through rate? And that it didn't get immediately reprinted more than once? There's a (fairly scarce) reprint in the first month, but nothing further in the US for several years.

The Ballantines were never fools about marketing. This doesn't pass a sniff test.

And the whole page is indeed a farrago.

#71 ::: Michael Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:07 PM:

#60 yes, I need a copy editor desperately and no I had no idea this place belongs to the editors of tor.

The via was added as part of the addenda. I take full responsibility for the lack of attribution in the original post and for not verifying the numbers.

The source was a blog focusing on sfi/fantasy news and reviews whose proprietor has contributed work to "WORLD, Publishers Weekly, Black Gate, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, SF Signal, Sacramento Book Review, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com." Sounded credible but my bad for not pursuing further. Sci-fiction is not an area I have deep knowledge in, so obviously the inaccuracies were not as apparent.

As for #37's comment that I don't "know nearly as much about books and publishing as he thinks he does."

I founded Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers in Seattle almost 20 years ago and have sat on the boards of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, Friends of the Seattle Public Library and the Book Club of Washington.

I love books and everything about them and once again apologize for the mishap.


#72 ::: Lauren ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:08 PM:

I'm catching up on this thread and just spied Teresa's analysis of the "How an Idea Becomes a Book" infographic.

Clicking through to the whole chart I'm especially tickled to learn we pitch book ideas to our customers and bring their feedback to the editors before the book is even written. I've apparently been doing my job wrong for the last ten years. Why haven't any of my booksellers called me out on this?

#73 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:08 PM:

TNH @51, see, if I were asked to give an example of a word from The Book of the New Sun that wasn't a "true English word", I'd've gone with alzebo, which is Arabic. (Means hyena, the beast that laughs with a human voice.)

If I wasn't limited to that series, but had the whole of Wolfe's oeuvre to draw from, I'd go with satisplant.

#74 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:12 PM:

Tom @70 -- Actually, it is entirely possible that the 1953 mass market of Childhood's End had an 80% sell through on 250,000 copies. The 50s and 60s were really the hey-day of mass market books. And the very few SF titles published (by the Ballantines, more likely than not, and then by Don Wollheim) did very well indeed.

Let me pound my cane on the floor for a moment...I started my career in this business at Ace books in 1980. At that point, our P&L basis for SF titles was 100K copies at 20% returns for midlist. The leads were 200K to 300K, with a somewhat higher return rate, depending on the title and author, but never as high as 50%. And I was told that it was sad that the numbers had dropped so much.

A million copies was really not far out of reach, especially as a shipped number. For writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, those numbers were expected. We have seen a tremendous drop in distribution over the past two decades, as outlets contract and the size of lists, and number of lists, expands.

So, I can easily believe in multi-million copy cumulative sales on a lot of those older titles. I'd be willing to believe that the Dick sold a half-million before Bladerunner was a film. I know that Dune's initial sales at Ace were a couple hundred thousand copies; over the course of decades since, that number has no doubt multiplied significantly.

Our sales levels today are pitiful.

#75 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:14 PM:

Sigh, I am gnomed. Too many numbers, I suspect.

#76 ::: Fluvious Proroman, Duty Gnome ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:25 PM:

No, Beth. Too many spaces. (Three or more in a row excite the gnomes.)

-- Fluvious Proroman, Duty Gnome

#77 ::: Narmitaj ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:38 PM:

@PNH, abi, 14&16 - "The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Argument against the Oxford/serial comma can, in similar fashion, be shown by this rearrangement: "The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, a dildo collector, and an 800-year-old demigod".

The non-serial comma suggests just one named demigod who happens to be 800 and collect dildoes; the serial comma suggests two people, ie Nelson Mandela - who, incidentally, is a dildo collector - plus an 800-yo demigod. Neither usage unambiguously suggests three separate people: Nelson Mandela; an 800-yo demigod; a dildo collector.

Personally I prefer not to use the Oxford comma, though I use it if it is clearer. But style guides may disapprove of the "inconsistency". And starting sentences with a conjunction.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:39 PM:

Beth, I would completely believe a multi-million sell through over time on Childhood's End. But it's a really early book for the Ballantines (Ballantine book #33, to be precise). Their experiment with simultaneous hb and pb was new. The book wasn't reprinted more than once in its first year (Ballantine in the 60s was Really Good about listing printings in its books, which Ian brought over as a practice from Pocket).

You are much more directly experienced in the NY publishing scene than I, but I do have some experience. And you and I both support my primary point, I believe: that it sold out all of its edition (even if it was 210,000 copies) in that early a year, when Clarke didn't have the name he did later (they none of them did!) -- that's saying that it broke the basic model for mass market. The really big sales for SF/F start in the 60s, rather than the 50s, I believe -- and we can remember when SF actually started to hit the national bestseller lists, which wasn't until the 70s.

But that's my gut feeling, and I don't have primary sources to back it up. It's well before my time (hey, it was published the year I was born).

#79 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:54 PM:

Tom, the national bestseller lists did not admit SF until the SF was being published in hardcovers and selling truly significant numbers. In months when there was not a major mainstream release.

Ian Ballantine's experiment with simultaneous HC/MM was his attempt to break into trade publishing. And he did not have tremendous success at first. But the mass market business model he created did indeed call for wide distribution and low returns. All those millions of copies he sent into the military channels, for instance, took no returns at all. Ian didn't reprint his paperbacks often at all; he sent out a big printing and took the returns. Like an issue of a magazine. Then if he wanted to sell more of them, he reissued with a new package. Keeping books in print just wasn't part of the plan in those early days -- that was a later development for paperback, one that Don Wollheim figured out, at Ace.

#80 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 09:58 PM:

Oh, and addendum -- I should have added that the other reason Ian went to simultaneous HC/MM was the library market. Libraries were beginning to like Science Fiction, but they didn't want paperbacks. The Ballantines were publishing significant works in paperback original, and that eliminated the 5000-10,000 copy library hardcover sale. Ian was never a man to let possible sales lying on the floor.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:14 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue #67: 50p is the Newt Gingrich of coins: many-sided and two-faced.

#82 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:19 PM:

Narmitaj @76 - of course, the most unambiguous arrangement of that sentence involves putting the proper name at the end and using a serial comma: "The highlights of his global tour include encounters with an 800-year-old demigod, a dildo collector, and Nelson Mandela."

The non-serial comma version, ""The highlights of his global tour include encounters with an 800-year-old demigod, a dildo collector and Nelson Mandela." is not quite as good - as you could then argue that the 800-year-old demigod is simultaneously a dildo collector AND Nelson Mandela.

#83 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:36 PM:

beth @78 and 79: Agreed on the history of why Ian went to doing simultaneous hb and pb (sometimes making a joint publication with a regular publisher, as on Bring the Jubilee or the very first Ballantine book). And I'm quite willing to believe you're right and I'm wrong on this one.

#84 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 10:36 PM:

73
I've accounted for three mmpb copies of Dune, going back to 1968. They keep wearing out.

#85 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2012, 11:18 PM:

That's a real classic, that book "20 Leagues Under The Sea".

#86 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 12:32 AM:

I don't think anyone has mentioned that some sf is required reading in school-- this is going to have a large effect on the sales of a few titles.

#87 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 12:32 AM:

Pray note that Mr. Lieberman returned at #71.

#88 ::: Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 05:03 AM:

Narmitaj@77 : I cannot recall any reputable usage manual deprecating starting a sentence with "and" (or "but"); of the eight I looked into after typing the first clause of this sentence, three made no mention of the matter and the other five described the supposed prohibition, with varying degrees of asperity, as a superstition.

As to the serial comma, while opinions vary (I, like Fowler in this, advocate its use), the crux is for a given writer to be uniform in its use or non-use: mixed forms will guarantee to confuse everybody whenever confusion is at all possible.

#89 ::: David Langford ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 06:09 AM:

#48: The paragraph that goes with A Fire Upon The Deep starts with the sentence: "Written in Vinge's usual complex style, this novel covers an equally large array of subjects." / So not only is that infographic poorly done, it isn't even original in its badness!

Not quite fair. In the original Top 10 list, "equally large array of subjects" surely references "Weaving macrocosmic concepts" in the blurb for the previous selection, Childhood's End. It was unthinking removal of context that introduced the badness.

#90 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 06:14 AM:

Tom Whitmore: Beth is right. You're correct that the 1960s are when SF paperbacks began routinely achieving truly massive distribution. But 1949-1953 is an aberrant period -- there were so few SF mass-market paperback titles and so much demand for them that many of the books that were actually published in that format went out in simply incredible quantities.

Ian once told me that the first Ballantine edition of Clarke's Expedition to Earth distributed 800,000 copies. Mind you, this was an off-the-cuff remark, but it's indicative of the stunning numbers characteristic of this brief period.

#91 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 06:24 AM:

I want to say, in case it's not clear, that I have no particular animus toward Mr. Lieberman for posting inaccurate information as fact on an obscure website. And I'm not actually all that interested in sorting out where he got it, or the rights and wrongs of whether-and-how he credited it. The world is full of bad information on minor websites.

What I find shocking, and still do, is that outfits like Publishers Weekly and the New Yorker's blog would uncritically link to it, without even looking at the numbers closely enough to ask themselves whether it's really likely that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has only sold 10,000 copies since its original publication in 1870. What this says to me is that the pressure to blog and tweet and general Do That Social Media Thing is so high, at even major and reputable organs like PW and TNY, that they're doing so without thinking, at a million miles an hour.

And what it also says to me is that, even in 2012, for a lot of people who work at places like PW and TNY, science fiction is still a joke. We don't have a documented history, reference works, scholarship, or experts. Someone you never heard of puts up something claiming to list "The Bestselling Sci-Fi Books of All Time"? Hey, it's colorful, kitschy, cute, linkbait. Go with it. Don't waste a second asking yourself if it's plausible, credibly-sourced, or even makes internal sense. That's what torques me. It's not Michael Lieberman who needs discrediting. It's PW and TNY.

#92 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 06:37 AM:

1: They're well-regarded books.

2: The numbers cover all sorts of different measures, and it is usually documented what the numbers are.

3: Some of the numbers are unexplained, and just don't make sense as a result.

4: And then it is somebody else's work, and Mr. Lieberman doesn't know who is responsible. Yeah, right.

It is a bit like one of those cabinets of curiousities that includes a genuine mermaid.

#93 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 06:57 AM:

Michael Lieberman @71:

I had no idea this place belongs to the editors of tor.
It doesn't. Some of the people it belongs to are editors at Tor. Other readers and commenters edit or otherwise work for other houses, and/or are current or former booksellers, and/or are professional writers, reviewers, academics, librarians, and so forth. And then again, many of the best-read of are in other occupations entirely, from able seaman to zoologist. You've wandered into a morass of literacy.
The via was added as part of the addenda. I take full responsibility for the lack of attribution in the original post and for not verifying the numbers.
It's good that you're doing so; but with all due respect, I believe you have a flawed understanding of copyright if you think it's all right to appropriate and republish an entire article plus accompanying graphic design without first getting permission from its creator. Attributing it doesn't address the problem. Works put up on the internet have no less copyright protection than works published in other media.

If you don't mind my asking, are you the author of the other entries on your site? I've been assuming that you are.

The source was a blog focusing on sfi/fantasy news and reviews whose proprietor has contributed work to "WORLD, Publishers Weekly, Black Gate, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, SF Signal, Sacramento Book Review, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com." Sounded credible but my bad for not pursuing further.
That's very strange. I really wish we knew who it was. Someone who's sold to all those venues should have known there was something wrong about a 1,500 total sales figure for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. They should also be more familiar with the genre's online archives.
Sci-fiction
Science fiction.
is not an area I have deep knowledge in, so obviously the inaccuracies were not as apparent.
My husband was snarling about that over dinner -- not at you, but at PW and The New Yorker, for never considering that our genre might have its own history, scholarship, and expertise, and that if they published a sloppy, error-ridden infographic about it, we'd notice. It's both rude and conceptually unsound to think there are areas of literature where it doesn't matter whether or not you get it right.

(I see he's posted his own version of it while I've been writing this comment. He's faster than I am.)

As for #37's comment
Comment #37 has a human being's name attached to it, as do all the comments here. If a name has insufficient meaning for you, click on "view all by" and you'll see every other comment that person has posted at Making Light. We are what we write, and our names go with it.
comment that I don't "know nearly as much about books and publishing as he thinks he does."

I founded Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers in Seattle almost 20 years ago and have sat on the boards of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, Friends of the Seattle Public Library and the Book Club of Washington.

And I'm sure they thought the world of you.
I love books and everything about them and once again apologize for the mishap.
We all love books; and who among us is without error?

#94 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 07:03 AM:

PNH @91: I took that to be the relevance of the original post, but thank you for stating it again explicitly. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for the hapless Mr. Lieberman.

#95 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 07:17 AM:

Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand League Under the Sea has been “translated into 147 languages”

Including French!

#96 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 07:44 AM:

Serge Broom #95: Comment?

#97 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 08:31 AM:

Well, the magic phrase ""WORLD, Publishers Weekly, Black Gate, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, SF Signal, Sacramento Book Review, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com" in a Google search shows only a few strong candidates for where Mr. Liberman found the entry that he made use of, but the search function for the site at the top of the Google search has a hatred for my iPad and it is WAY too early in the morning for me to drag myself out to my large computer, find the item he used, and check it for metadata. My old Computer Forensics prof would be pissed at my passing up a possible fat pitch, but I figure someone in a more easterly time zone can have a whack at it.

#98 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 08:43 AM:

Damn! Under "Recent Comments" there's a link to "infoGRAPHIC | stat chart on [INFOGRAPHIC] The Best Selling Sci-fi Books of All Time" but the box that has it hates my iPad more than the search function above does, if possible.

#99 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 08:48 AM:

Serge Broom@95: spotted here:

WEEKEND MAUVAIS GENRES SUR FRANCE CULTURE

Retrouvez l'esprit Mauvais Genres dans les émissions de France Culture du 16 au 18 novembre : science fiction, aventure, érotisme, horreur... et plus si affinités !

'Mauvais Genres'? Looks as though SF is back in the gutter, where it belongs.

#100 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:02 AM:

I am delighted to see that my ancient trunk novel "Scratch Monkey", published in a limited edition run by NESFA Press (and then reissued in another limited run by them) has outsold "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

Fame, fortune, and a movie deal could be mine any decade now!

#101 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:11 AM:

Beth #74: *weeps piteously*

#102 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:14 AM:

Well, Michael Lieberman's "via" credit in turn credits lovereading.co.uk for the graphic, though I can't easily find it on my site, and I have no particular reason to believe it originated with them.

Here's the thing about a lot of those "infographics", though: they're just a more visually sophisticated version of those spammy, content-farmed articles whose real purpose is to get links and Googlejuice. I've been solicited for hosting or linking to a few of these on my site, just as I've been offered many more "helpful links" or "posts you can put on your blog", thanks to having a fairly high-Pagerank site.

The creators of these things don't have much incentive to spend a lot of time on research or fact-checking. It's much more important for them to look appealing and linkable. As far as the facts go, a quick troll of Wikipedia and some other sites that come up quickly on search engines is usually about as far as they go; why spend a lot of time verifying accuracy or ensuring your overview is more comprehensive than random trivia, when you could be cranking out and promoting more infographics?

The basic gist was well-expressed by Buzzfeed a couple of years back, who snarkily presented their findings as, of course, an infographic.

If the infographic that's the subject of the article falls into the category I'm describing (and it has signs of that) the original creators won't particularly care about credit or permission, as long as they get the linkbacks they're seeking.

#103 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:17 AM:

Fragano @ 95... How? It must be more of that 'je ne sais quoi' people talk about?

#104 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom draws the attention of gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:17 AM:

Might have been the link or domain name I included in my comment. While I'm waiting, I hope the gnomes enjoy this nicely arranged assortment of twenty random foods^W^W^W the all-time best produce I picked up from the closest market today.

#105 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:18 AM:

Steve with a book @ 99... L'horreur... L'HORREUR!

#106 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:52 AM:

Serge Broom #105: As-tu changé ton nom å Kurtz?

#107 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 11:09 AM:

Fragano @ #106: Ah, non! Monsieur Kurtz, il est mort!

(If my grammar and/or spelling is substandard, I will claim that I'm imitating the original.)

#108 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 12:48 PM:

I'm now wondering if the statistically poor matches to "mauvais" might be a better translation. "Wicked" and "perverse" sound a little closer the mark, but I think you'd have to know the TV show to be sure.

Anyway, I'm English, and they're French, and hence there are limits to my forbearance. My French Language Teacher told me all about the CRS.

#109 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 12:55 PM:

Dave #108, why was your teacher telling you about Cranial-Rectal Syndrome in the first place?

#110 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 01:59 PM:

Jim #109, It depends on whether they were discussing French-language tabloids. What few I saw over there years ago made me long for the rigorous fact-checking of the National Enquirer.

#111 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 02:19 PM:

Lauren @74:

Clicking through to the whole chart I'm especially tickled to learn we pitch book ideas to our customers and bring their feedback to the editors before the book is even written. I've apparently been doing my job wrong for the last ten years. Why haven't any of my booksellers called me out on this?

Given that Mr. Lieberman is a bookseller, I think that infographic represents wishful thinking about how he would like the publishing process to work. So that one is probably his original work ;-)

#112 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 02:54 PM:

TNH @93: I believe you have a flawed understanding of copyright if you think it's all right to appropriate and republish an entire article plus accompanying graphic design without first getting permission from its creator.

This is actually a pretty common practice among people who use Tumblr and Facebook a lot. Those sites are set up to make it easy to republish ("share") other users' content, with an automatically-inserted attribution.

And, of course, any old cat photo with some Impact on it will get shared around faster than an Oscar Wilde quote.

#113 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 03:47 PM:

Lila #107: That should be "M. Kurtz, il mort" (the original being "Mister Kurtz, he dead").

In any case, I blame Serge.

#114 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 04:35 PM:

Fragano @ 113... I blame Serge

Mordieu!

#115 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 04:52 PM:

Bill @66 Trying that ngram with

(((The Stars My Destination) + (Tiger Tiger)) - (The Demolished Man))/((The Stars My Destination) + (Tiger Tiger))

seems to make a fair difference.

#116 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 07:48 PM:

Why not "genres mauvaises"?

#117 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 08:25 PM:

MOdesto Kid @ 116... "mauvais genres" is more colloquial, just like we say "mauvaise graine", which means that someone is a bad seed.

#118 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 08:52 PM:

Modesto Kid, 116: "Mauvais" is a BAGS Adjective (Beauty, Age, Goodness, Size) and those generally go in front of the noun.

I won't tell you about the ones that change meaning depending on where you put them.

#119 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2012, 09:41 PM:

TexAnne: Well, would you tell me about them? I'm curious.

#120 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:11 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 119...

un grand homme --> a great man
un homme grand --> a tall man

#121 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:56 AM:

Jim @109

Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité: they're the riot police, with what seem to be the common characteristics thereof.

#122 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 03:41 AM:

Image searching on Google lists that not-really-an-infographic as appearing at ebookfriendly.com on, I believe, September 2nd. They loves them some infographics and it's not easy to tell.

They credit Grasping For The Wind (www.graspingforthewind.com), subtitled "science fiction and fantasy news & reviews", and that post is dated July 20th, and is by-lined John Ottinger III, who credits lovereading.co.uk

For what that's all worth, there it is. I am unable to find the image on lovereading.co.uk, and I looked.

#123 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 07:40 AM:

David, 119: There's also les mains propres (clean hands) vs. les propres mains (own hands). So knitters and stitchers have to make things with les propres mains propres. (Although it is extremely unstylish to say it that way, and I have gotten some very disapproving looks as I collapsed in giggles.)

#124 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 11:26 AM:

Serge Broom #120: Et le général de Gaulle, encore? Un grand homme grand.

#125 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 11:44 AM:

Teresa @39: "Panopticonic"?

#126 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 11:47 AM:

Teresa #39, NelC #125:

ISTR encountering "panoptic" in my grad school days.

#127 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 11:52 AM:

TexAnne @118, David @119, I'm just guessing, but beauty, age, goodness, and size tend to be integral characteristics, and adjectives denoting those things tend to be strong modifiers. Putting BAGS adjectives before the nouns they modify means the adjective functions more like part of the noun than it would if it came after.

Putting them in that position also follows the same logic as the English rule for order of multiple adjectives: strong modifiers should come early rather than late. The underlying principle in both cases is that you shouldn't force your hearers to stop mid-sentence and recalculate identifications and/or transformations they already have queued up.

Obligatory consumer warning: if you find yourself trying explain why any language does what it does, be aware that there's a greater-than-usual chance that you're on shaky ground.

#128 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:01 PM:

Joann @126: Panoptic. Of course. (Smacks self in head.) I was groping for an adjectival suffix when the root itself is an adjective.

TexAnne @123: Which fits with my previous comment, since "belonging to oneself" is an integral characteristic, but "clean" is a temporary condition.

#129 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:06 PM:

Serge #120:

Would I be right in thinking that you'd only say "un grand homme" if you were emphasizing there's only one of them, and that normally, in a sentence, you'd say just "grand homme"?

#130 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:14 PM:

Teresa @127: ...strong modifiers should come early rather than late. The underlying principle in both cases is that you shouldn't force your hearers to stop mid-sentence and recalculate identifications and/or transformations they already have queued up.

!!!

I...wow. That explains so much! Adjective ordering is one of those things I can do naturally in English (woo, native language fluency!) and almost naturally in Spanish (woo, early childhood exposure!), but find it nigh impossible to explain. The best I'd been able to come up with is "generic and visual stuff comes before specific and non-visual stuff", and then frustrated flailing at the sorts of adjective sets that just don't sound good in English no matter how they're ordered.

It also explains what I had often found peculiar about Spanish: that it put adjectives after the noun (opposite of English!), except for when it...didn't. (Un-opposite of English! For some reason!)

#131 ::: Daniel S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 12:26 PM:

What does it say about me that the first thing I objected to when looking through the infographic was that they used a reissue cover for Dune instead of one of the originals? I've never liked that Anniversary Edition cover...

#132 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 129... 'Un' can translate as 'one' and as 'a'. Context usually allows you to figure out which one it is.

#133 ::: brotherguy ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 02:00 PM:

Serge @ 132: " Context usually allows you to figure out which one it is."

Which is useful when there is more than one one. Once one has one one, one has won.

#134 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 03:00 PM:

Brotherguy @ 133... Once one has one one, one has won.

Said he wanly too?

#135 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 03:11 PM:

There's an ordering of adjectives in English, so that you couldn't say "six very old stone houses" in any other order and have it make sense. (Not that our mad-libs spammers don't try....)

#136 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 03:34 PM:

One of those adjectives is an adverb, Jim, which makes it slightly less simple to rearrange things....

#137 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 05:02 PM:

Jim @135: Some of those permutations don't work because stone and house will take advantage of the chaos to shapeshift into verbs, resulting in a case of the "need brooks no delay" problem.

#138 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 05:20 PM:

Steve writes in #115:

Bill @66 Trying that ngram with

(((The Stars My Destination) + (Tiger Tiger)) - (The Demolished Man))/((The Stars My Destination) + (Tiger Tiger))

seems to make a fair difference.

A keen insight. Very clever, but not clever enough.

"Tiger Tiger" will indeed pick up references to the UK title of Bester's second novel, which I had neglected-- but it will also scoop up William Blake's poem, contaminating the ratios.

I'm afraid I don't know how to include Bester references in this calculation without also including Blake references.

Perhaps the best we can say is that the gap between The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination is not so large as my first estimates made it appear. Despite these tricky tools, we cannot yet conclude which is the better-known novel, as measured by appearances in the Google Books English corpus.

#139 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 05:32 PM:

Teresa@137: take advantage of the chaos to shapeshift into verbs, resulting in a case of the "need brooks no delay" problem.

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like a banana.

Time flies.
I can't; they move too fast.

And so on.

(I love the places around the edges of a language where things get weird.)

#140 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 05:54 PM:

Teresa (137): "need brooks no delay"

Would you settle for creeks? How about streams?

#141 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 06:03 PM:

Confusion can arise even without shifting parts of speech. For a long time, I thought that the Long Island Sound Study was about noise pollution on Long Island. Turns out it's really about water pollution in Long Island Sound.

#142 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 06:39 PM:

Mary Aileen @141: What I especially like about that example is that I would read it the same way you used to, seeing it written... But if someone spoke it, I think it'd be immediately obvious which was meant, based on syllable stress.

It's a good reminder to me that there's signal loss in moving from speech to text, and not just in terms of body language and the like.

#143 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 06:40 PM:

Serge Broom #103:
Fragano @ 95... How? It must be more of that 'je ne sais quoi' people talk about?

'je ne sais quoi' -- exactly that!


brotherguy #133:
Which is useful when there is more than one one. Once one has one one, one has won.

My brain hurts. Despite the fact that it makes complete sense. I expect that your copyeditor would have an objection as well.

#144 ::: tnv ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 07:39 PM:

@130 Fade Manley: Adjective ordering is one of those things I can do naturally in English (woo, native language fluency!) and almost naturally in Spanish (woo, early childhood exposure!), but find it nigh impossible to explain. The best I'd been able to come up with is "generic and visual stuff before specific and non-visual stuff", and then frustrated flailing at the sorts of adjective sets that just don't sound good in English no matter how they're ordered.

I've heard the ordering is
Opinion Condition Size Age Color Origin Material

as in

The poor battered little old blue Japanese car

Although it seems to me that

The poor little old battered blue Japanese car

might work as well...or might not.

@135 Jim Macdonald :
There's an ordering of adjectives in English, so that you couldn't say "six very old stone houses" in any other order and have it make sense. (Not that our mad-libs spammers don't try....)

"Very", as noted, is an adverb, which come before adjectives, and "six" is a determiner, like 'the', which must always come before any adjectives or adverbs in English.

#145 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 08:05 PM:

abi way back up @7 - I've said for years I don't understand what the rest of the world has been reading.

I see collections of typed paper in the airports, bound with titles, authors and explosions or bodices on the cover, but I can't say that I'd properly consider them *books*.

#146 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 08:47 PM:

Shane @ 145... Would you be suggesting that what people who work in the Romance field write aren't really books?

#147 ::: Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 08:49 PM:

tnv@144 et al. - Theer are several web pages that tabulate English adjective order. One that looks useful is simply titled "Adjective order in English". (I only just noticed that it is tagged "This information excerpted from postings to rec.arts.sf.written, October 2000, by
Katie Schwarz, Fred Galvin, and Lucy Kemnitzer".)

#148 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 09:21 PM:

For auction today, we have six stone houses, very old.

For auction today, we have six houses, stone, very old.

Princeton Plainsboro hospital: "We just admitted six very stoned old..." "House!"

#149 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 09:24 PM:

But moving slightly back on track, since the Golden Age of Science Fiction is "about 12 or 13", I read many of the classic sf novels as hardback library books, and many of the classic short stories as hardback anthologies from the library. But 1500 seems like a really small number, even if everybody else read Stranger and Dune that way.

#150 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 09:25 PM:

Donna Reed's Stone House?

#151 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 10:37 PM:

Serge @ 146 I would be. But only while trolling.

Frex: They make far too much money to be real books.

#152 ::: An Infinitude of Tortoises ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 10:45 PM:

But to return momentarily to the original issue....

pericat @122: Good summary of the situation. It may be worth emphasizing that Ottinger's July 20th blog post is what Michael Lieberman's celebrated "via" points to. lovereading.co.uk has proven a dead end for all who have searched there, and the ebookfriendly.com instance is much too recent to have been the infographic's source.

But let's take another look at the image itself. The file's EXIF information shows it to date from June 6th, 2012 (what, no one else checked the metadata? Always check the metadata!), and for "software" one sees "Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 Macintosh". The latter tidbit might come in handy if anyone cares to check other image files from some suspect infographic artiste. As for the date, it implies a cut-off point in our searching for the infographic's earliest occurrence. Oh, and how about that -- Ottinger's blog post turns out to be the earliest findable instance.

G00gle Image Search, however, reveals (if I'm interpreting the results correctly) a version dating to July 6 in the directory www.graspingforthewind.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/. Take a look: there are three variant images (SCIFIBOOKS-150x150.jpg, SCIFIBOOKS-20x300.jpg, & SCIFIBOOKS-71x1024.jpg) there as well. And although they lack EXIF info, all include jpeg comments reading "CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90". The "gd-jpeg" refers to the GD Graphics Library and the "IJG" to the Independent JPEG Group, but what if anything this buys us I have no idea.

I suppose someone could simply ask John Ottinger III about all this, but where would be the fun in that?

Finally, it pains me to note that even Tor Books has now gotten in on the act!

#153 ::: dana ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2012, 11:51 PM:

Is there any chance that the information was drawn from a source where the figures were quoted in thousands, with that small but important detail somehow getting lost along the way? I'm not conversant enough with these numbers to know if, for example, the relative ratios are plausible, but that is certainly one way to end up with numbers that are orders of magnitude off. Of course, it doesn't excuse passing along numbers that make no sense, but it might provide a mechanism...

#154 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:22 AM:

Tortoise #152:

?"CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90". The "gd-jpeg" refers to the GD Graphics Library and the "IJG" to the Independent JPEG Group, but what if anything this buys us I have no idea.

Tells us nothing. That's an extremely common library.

#155 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:31 AM:

Shane:

But only while trolling.

Which you should not be doing here.

SF&F readers who treat romance like a literary pariah, particularly in a conversation about how the rest of the world others their own genre, make me want to hit my head on my desk. Seriously, I've heard it all—cover snarks, critiques based on tropes rather than actual reading of the books, contemptuous stereotyping of the readership. And it all sounds so familiar, you know?

Knock it off. Even as a joke, knock it right off.

Also?

They make far too much money to be real books.

Some do. The ones that sell a lot. Which they do because readers find something in them worth reading. Rather than implicitly dismissing those people, you could have an interesting time (and grow a little) by figuring out what that is.

#156 ::: An Infinitude of Tortoises ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:37 AM:

Josh @154: As I'd feared! However, the current version of the IJG library, as of January 15, 2012, is 8d (hex?), suggesting the mystery infographicist's v62 is rather antiquated. This might yet prove useful at the trial....

#157 ::: brotherguy ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:56 AM:

#142 Fade Manley: "It's a good reminder to me that there's signal loss in moving from speech to text, and not just in terms of body language and the like..."

About ten years ago I was being interviewed by Astrobiology, an on-line magazine, who asked me if my religious beliefs were a product of the science I do. I denied it, saying, "I don't believe in God because of my science." Fortunately, they let me see the interview before posting it, so that I could politely ask them to rephrase it (which they did, thankfully) as, "Science is not the reason that I believe in God..."

#158 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 04:49 AM:

abi @155

Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine, earliest edition I found on Amazon is 1987, and there's been a reprint this year. It's an historical romance with an element of time travel: mental rather than physical. I didn't feel I'd wasted my time reading it, but the author then gave me the impression that she was re-using the plot idea in her next book. Libraries were useful then.

Helen McInnes did romance/thriller cross-overs, also worth a look. The romance doesn't overload the thriller element.

It's the hard-core genre romance that doesn't appeal to me, associated (in the UK) with Mills & Boon. Short books, maybe with aspects of the old-style pulp magazines in numbers published and the writing quality. I don't think you have the house names, but you can see some of the repetitive structure. Not Lester Dent, but there is an impression of similar advice.

They rather frown on a man coming in with a gun, but sometimes something with a similar effect happens and diverts the plot from the inevitable happy ending.

It might be one of the places in publishing where that approach to writing still works out, even as the range of the possible romantic activities has widened. Maybe you could even get away with the man with a gun.

#159 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:28 AM:

Dave Bell @158:

I should check those out. I'm a huge fan of Georgette Heyer (in which I'm in very good company, both here on Making Light and in the SF&F community as a whole.) But there's plenty of interesting stuff out there.

There are a couple of romance publishers (Mills & Boon, Harlequin) that seem to be running a pulp model of romance novels. Their audience is looking for that classic same-but-different reading experience. Books in that model rarely rise to brilliance in any genre, but rarely isn't never—look what Mike Ford did (twice! differently!) with the Star Trek novel.

And just as SF's pulp roots are important to where it is now, but don't define and encompass the whole genre, so is romance more than M&B or Harlequin. I agree that there's a difference, in that SF's pulp days are done while Romance's live on, but I'm not sure that this provides any meaningful evidence about the values of the respective genres as a whole.

It's perfectly fine to say that a given work, author, or genre doesn't work for you. We all have things we bounce off of. But I draw the line at (well, actually, well short of) saying but I can't say that I'd properly consider them *books*.

#160 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:57 AM:

It's terms such as "novel" where I see room for sensible argument. Unless "book" is being used when "novel" is meant (is that a metonym?), which wouldn't astonish me. Whoever came upwith "graphic novel" as a label was walking into the quicksands of criticism. Then again, the Europeans were doing it long before we did: we had Asterix books at school, in French. Metal Hurlant could be found in a sidestreet shop in Grimsby, packed with second hand books and porn (I didn't care to find out if that was secondhand), within a few hundred yards of the docks. I got a few US editions of SF there, and a totally misleadingly titled The Girl From Outer Space. Back in those days, Sweden had a certain reputation for porn. Then it shifted to the Netherlands (EU rules on trade with the EU were part of it). Now it's all on the Internet.

But I digress.

Thing is, people do use "book" and "novel" pretty interchangeably and, crude as it is, that sort of opinion is a first step on a road to discrimination. Though too often that route is by way of the Troll Bridge, they don't have a billy-goat, and they didn't remember to throw the carrot across the bridge.

#161 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:57 AM:

It's terms such as "novel" where I see room for sensible argument. Unless "book" is being used when "novel" is meant (is that a metonym?), which wouldn't astonish me. Whoever came upwith "graphic novel" as a label was walking into the quicksands of criticism. Then again, the Europeans were doing it long before we did: we had Asterix books at school, in French. Metal Hurlant could be found in a sidestreet shop in Grimsby, packed with second hand books and porn (I didn't care to find out if that was secondhand), within a few hundred yards of the docks. I got a few US editions of SF there, and a totally misleadingly titled The Girl From Outer Space. Back in those days, Sweden had a certain reputation for porn. Then it shifted to the Netherlands (EU rules on trade with the EU were part of it). Now it's all on the Internet.

But I digress.

Thing is, people do use "book" and "novel" pretty interchangeably and, crude as it is, that sort of opinion is a first step on a road to discrimination. Though too often that route is by way of the Troll Bridge, they don't have a billy-goat, and they didn't remember to throw the carrot across the bridge.

#162 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 07:45 AM:

Dave Bell @ 160... people do use "book" and "novel" pretty interchangeably and, crude as it is, that sort of opinion is a first step on a road to discrimination.

Why is that? A book is a book, and so is a novel although a book isn't necessarily a novel, and it amuses me when I go to the bookstore's fiction section and there's a book with "- a novel" in its title, possibly to reassure us that this is an Important Work and not trashy pulp. (Sorry for the rambling, I didn't get much sleep last night, thanks to the smell that emanated from the oven in its selfcleaning mode and I think that, next time, I'll do it the old-fashioned way, on my knees and with fine steel wool.)

#163 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:28 AM:

"A man with rough edges and a woman who's quite prim and proper are forced to share an adventure, in the course of which they each discover qualities about the other and fall in love with each other."

Typical romance plot?
Yes.
Also the plot of "The African Queen".

#164 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:36 AM:

Serge, #163

Or, the other way up in "Heaven Knows, Mr Allison".

#165 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:50 AM:

Serge @162

Sometimes novels are published with titles that might legitimately be thought to be non-fiction. Similarily some non-fiction books have novel-like titles and so also have subtitles. To (probably) make up some examples:

The History of Robots in Classical Music - A Novel
Cyber Symphony - a history of robotic orchestras

The first still sounds a little pretentious, but one can't always come up with a perfect title that suits the book and unambiguously defines it.

#166 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:54 AM:

Not every novel is a book. The Lord of the Rings is a novel, but, when it first appeared and for many years afterwards, was not a book, but three books. I believe some novels have appeared only in magazines.

#167 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:54 AM:

Neil W @ 165... I'd read either of those books.

#168 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:58 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 164... That too, but it's not *quite* a romance novel's plot because, at the end, Deborah Kerr doesn't kick the habit.

#169 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:59 AM:

Andrew M @ 166... Or is "LoTR" one book split into three subbooks?

#170 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 09:00 AM:

Coming soon on the SyFy Channel, "Cyber Symphony - A History of Robotic Orchestras - The Movie"...

#171 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 09:27 AM:

Andrew M@166: The Lord of the Rings is a novel, but, when it first appeared and for many years afterwards, was not a book, but three books.

It was, in fact, the classic "three-volume novel" as lovingly eulogized by Kipling in "The Three-Decker."

#172 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 09:39 AM:

tnv @144: Hm. I see exactly what you mean about the ordering ambiguity there, and I think it's because "little old" is a set phrase which gets appended to "poor" frequently. So "poor little old" sounds almost like a stock phrase that wants to stay together, with other adjectives sorted around it.

brotherguy @157 ...oh, yes. YES. I have occasionally, when studying other languages, wished that English had a little more clarity in negating conditionals; the ambiguity between "because NOT X" and "not because X" can get so fun!

I still find it clearer than dealing with Latin's habit of negating an entire phrase and then trying to figure out where to stick the Not in the English translation. (Or working out which variety of "quod" I'm dealing with this time.) But I wish for the one Japanese form of "because" that I got a chance to learn, sometimes.

#173 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 09:57 AM:

Dave Bell (158): I was very fond of Helen MacInnes in my college days, but I haven't read one in a very long time.

As an aside, I miss the old-fashioned type of romantic suspense. (Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Peters...) The modern kind is all serial killers. Those can be good, too, but not as a steady diet, not for me.

#174 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 10:09 AM:

Fade Manley@172: I think it's because "little old" is a set phrase which gets appended to "poor" frequently. So "poor little old" sounds almost like a stock phrase that wants to stay together, with other adjectives sorted around it.

Also, "little" forms stock phrases separately with both "poor" and "old", so you've got phrases like "poor little thing" and "little old man" just to make things more complicated.

(And try explaining to a non-native speaker that the phrase "poor little old man" does not necessarily refer to an impoverished, short-statured, senior citizen, but that the actual meaning is more likely to be "elderly male for whom the speaker feels a certain amount of sympathy.")

#175 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 10:24 AM:

Mary Aileen @173, I also miss the old-fashioned romantic suspense. I have reread some of the old Mary Stewart and Helen MacInnes books recently. Some are still readable, especially Stewart's classics and more recent ones, although many have been visited by the suck fairy in its sexism / classism form.

Somewhat more recent books that carried the same "feel" to me are two by Caroline Llewellyn in the late 80s, The Lady of the Labyrinth and The Masks of Rome.

Also, Steven Gould's Blind Waves had that vibe.

#176 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 11:59 AM:

Debra, in re "time flies", the version of that I like best, and which I heard from my grandfather is:

Time flies.
You cannot.
They come and go so quickly.

I especially like this because it could be poetry, and because it gives you brain whiplash twice, as the word flies does triple duty -- "is fleeting", "move through the air" and finally the insects. I also like it because if you give it to somebody unexplained it can be a koan.

#177 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:06 PM:

abi 159: It's perfectly fine to say that a given work, author, or genre doesn't work for you. We all have things we bounce off of.

For example, I complained here about the ending of the first Heyer I attempted, and was told that was pretty much the convention of that subgenre. What I drew from this was "I probably won't enjoy other books in that subgenre," not "that subgenre is trash."

#178 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:19 PM:

Andrew, Serge et al.:

To quote the source itself (or at least, the Note on the Text that appears at the front of recent UK editions): LOTR is "... a single novel, consisting of six books plus appendices, sometimes published in three volumes"

#179 ::: John Ottinger ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:25 PM:

Mr. Hayden,

My website is the original publication source for this infographic. I am in complete agreement with all of your issues with this poorly rendered graphic.

Some background:

I was contacted by the creator of this infographic and asked if they created an "original" graphic for me, if I would post it. I agreed.

They sent me the graphic. I could see obvious errors in it (spelling mistakes, calculation errors, or gross mistakes). I pushed back in that an asked them to check their facts.

I then received and email saying their "fact checkers" had looked through the numbers and claimed they were all correct. I was dubious, but in good faith I had to do what I agreed, so I posted it.

Perhaps I could have rejected it entirely as editor and proprietor of my blog. Yet, I had made a written agreement to post what they sent me, so I did. I knew people of intelligence would see this for the farce it is, but I did not comment in the post directly or by commenting, because I felt that would violate the nature of my contract with the creator.

That being said, I will not fall for one of these inforgraphic scams (which is a blatant attempt merely to gain backlinks for an online store in the UK) again.

I thank everyone for showcasing the glaring inaccuracies in the infographic - as I could not in good conscience do as a party to an publication agreement.

(Not to give the wrong impression - there was nothing other than an email exchange - no written contract - but I am a man of my word.)

#180 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:32 PM:

I put my semi-romantic hero-couple on a 'plane, and brought down the crew with food-poisoning.

It is Lady Helen who knows how to fly, and Charlie lets her get on with it.

The Ninja assassins travelling with the circus come later.

#181 ::: steve davidson ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:48 PM:

NOW we know why the publishing industry is in such dire straits. You can't make a living selling blockbusters that only turn 1,500 copies over the course of nearly half a century. The math just doesn't add up! :)

#182 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:55 PM:

Neil W@165: yes; A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka seems to have been Patient Zero of the recent UK outbreak of that sort of title.

Anthony Burgess suggested that choosing a title was such a chore (problems of originality and appositeness) that it might be preferable to refer, music-style, to opus numbers instead. Or we could just refer to books by their ISBNs. Complete anonymity for the author till you googled it, just like in Practical Criticism.

If fresh titles are scarce, obviously we need to set up proper namespaces (Waugh's WWII::Men At Arms and Pratchett's SF::Men At Arms.)

#183 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:05 PM:

steve davidson@180: Academic book publishing could certainly (if the figures were publicly available) deliver good examples of top-class books, widely-acclaimed and bywords for excellence, that only sold in the low thousands (at a high price per copy).

#184 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:09 PM:

OtterB (175): Caroline Llewellyn is good. But note that "late '80s" is ~25 years ago. Susanna Kearsley is writing old-fashioned romantic suspense now, although with supernatural overtones a la Barbara Michaels. (Not a criticism; I'm just specifying subtype.) The Rose Garden is her latest, Shadowy Horses and Named of the Dragon are my favorites.

#185 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:17 PM:

Serge, #162: Don't forget that novels were the original trashy pulp, back in the 18th century!

#186 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Lee @ 184... Let's put Literature back in the gutter where it belongs!

#187 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 01:53 PM:

Mary Aileen @183, I realized when I was writing my other post that these ones I was thinking of as "newer" may be that, but they weren't new. I'll take a look at the Kearsley ones - paranormal subtype is not my favorite, but I'm not indelibly opposed to it.

#188 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 02:04 PM:

Speaking of novels as the original trash genre -- has anyone here taken a crack at the "Horrid Novels" referred to in Northanger Abbey? There are free Kindle editions of most of them, so I downloaded them, and I started The Mysteries of Udolpho while in a doctor's waiting room last week, and, oh, merciful heavens.

Where does the frightening part come in? Even more importantly, at what point, if ever, does it acquire a plot?

I haven't made it very far -- while I did have a very long wait, I only managed to pick out that a) Emily's mother died, b) Emily's lute mysteriously moved in a should-have-been-empty cottage, and c) she and her father are going to go on a journey. All this nearly buried in very nonspecific blather about the scenery and a TON of very specific but tedious tell-don't-show about emotional states.

Seriously, this is what was giving Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland all sorts of delicious shivers? When does it start doing that?

Novels have obviously come a very long way.

#189 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 02:43 PM:

Serge Broom @117: "mauvaise graine", which means that someone is a bad seed.

Isaac Asimov's evil child? Wait, what?

#190 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 03:11 PM:

Jacque @ 188... Patty McCormarck was Asimov's child?

#191 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 04:04 PM:

Serge: Wow! I bet that would be a surprise to both of them!

#192 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 04:32 PM:

TNH (#93)
"morass of literacy."
OOOOOH! Shiny!

In regards to the New Yorker linking to the graphic, as of about 10 minutes ago, all of the comments are about the graphic, and all are one or another variety of "SHAME! SHAME!" (note -out of 6 different items limked to, *all* those comments were about the graphic)

#193 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 05:45 PM:

tnv@144 - but I can say "the top six teams in the league" or "the big five psychometric indicators". I can even say "the old top six", or "last" or "previous" or "usual".

#194 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:25 PM:

Fade Manley @130: One of the less common freelance editorial jobs is called Englishing. You take a text that's been translated by someone who speaks ESL English, and render it into native English. Adjective order, prepositions, internal logic, and implicit connections always get a workout.

Mary Aileen @141: Got it. It's like believing the Outerbridge Crossing is called that because it's the city's outermost bridge.

tnv @144:

I've heard the ordering is
Opinion Condition Size Age Color Origin Material

as in

The poor battered little old blue Japanese car

Although it seems to me that

The poor little old battered blue Japanese car

might work as well...or might not.

What you have there is a collection of English rules-that-aren't. They describe things the language tends to do, not things it's required to do.

For example, apply that template sequence of modifiers to "His granny sent him a semtex-filled traditional plum pudding and a tin of frosted thermite Christmas cookies." Adjectives of condition, size, age, and color are not going to displace "material" in those sequences. And "frosted" doesn't come first because it describes condition or color; it's there because "thermite frosted cookies" would be cookies frosted with thermite, not cookies made of thermite.

Our syntax and grammar are strongly influenced by the informational content and internal logic of the text in question. You can't say what order adjectives should be in unless you know which specific adjectives they are, and probably the sentence in which they occur. A rule won't cut it. What that needs is an AI.

Here's another example: what differentiates a statement that takes the subjunctive from one that's merely conditional -- that's "if he was the one who threw that switch" vs. "If she were to come in and see that" -- is whether the statement either (a.) is contrary to known fact, or (b.) takes place in hypothetical virtual spacetime. If yes to either, it's subjunctive.

I love English.

The main reason "The poor battered little old blue Japanese car" doesn't feel right is because some of its constituent adjectives are in longstanding committed relationships. "Poor little" and "little old" are both customary pairs, as in poor little thing and little old man. It feels uncomfortable to separate them, which is why you found yourself trying out "The poor little old battered blue Japanese car." Watch what happens if you try to fix that by dovetailing them:

She went on vacation in that poor little old blue car of hers.
The speaker now sounds like a Southerner, and "old" doesn't mean what it would if a Yankee said it. You can get them all into one sentence if you substitute near-synonyms. Let me crank up the Maturinator:
"In spite of our entreaties, she obliged us to drive a poor small antiquated ill-kept blue Japanese car over the Andes," Stephen said peevishly. "My sloth was entirely distressed."
Moving on --
"Very", as noted, is an adverb, which come before adjectives, and "six" is a determiner, like 'the', which must always come before any adjectives or adverbs in English.
In all my years of wrestling with English grammar, I have never heard of a determiner. I also can't accept that it's a strict rule, viz.: "I can't believe we hit fucking six fucking armadillos on one stretch of highway."

#195 ::: Dave Nee ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:25 PM:

Ah, must have using numbers from A. A. Wyn's statements.

#196 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:40 PM:

TNH, 194: I know about determiners because they have them in French; it's a handy way to say "that class of words containing definite and indefinite articles, possessives, and some other stuff I can't remember right now, thank you, delicious beer."

#197 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:40 PM:

TNH #194

I believe in Formal Navy that should be ...we fucking hit six fucking armadillos... vice ...we hit fucking six fucking armadillos.....

A great deal would depending on whether the fucking armadillos were fucking fucking when we fucking hit all fucking six.

At this point Formal Navy becomes quite the tonal language, for it is obvious to the native speaker that fucking fucking armadillos are quite different from fucking fucking armadillos.

But I digress.

#198 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 06:53 PM:

#179 ::: John Ottinger

So ... this was just a viral marketing/link-back scam thing?

Help me understand here ... these guys approached you out of the blue and said, "If we give you a graphic (to be named later), would you post it on your site"?

For anyone--is this sort of thing common? Does that particular site have pots of infographics (or anything else) pointing back to them?

#199 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 07:07 PM:

Rikibeth, yes, me. In my first couple of years at university (1975ish), I discovered the Horrid Novels reprints, as well as other reprinted Gothick novels, and read perhaps a dozen.
Most of the details now escape me, but I developed a fondness for the form, particularly the interleaving and embedding of secondary narratives, which the protagonists would discover as yellowed manuscripts clutched in skeleton hands or crammed into secret cubbyholes of antique furniture, then sit down and read all the way through by the flickering light of a single taper. Unless the creaking open of the wainscot-concealed door of a priest's hole stirred a breeze that extinguished that frail illumination, in which case someone new would enter and tell them another story in the dark.

Ahem. Anyway, for easier reading, may I recommend The Gothic novel, 1790-1830 : plot summaries and index to motifs, by Ann Blaisdell Tracy?
As the author admits, summarising the plots of the genre leads to considerable unintended humour, and is much faster going.

Now I'm off to find some Horrid Novels for my Kobo. Thanks for the tip!

#200 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 07:08 PM:

Teresa @194: One of the less common freelance editorial jobs is called Englishing. You take a text that's been translated by someone who speaks ESL English, and render it into native English. Adjective order, prepositions, internal logic, and implicit connections always get a workout.

That sounds like an absolutely delightful job. But then, I have been observed to wistfully note multiple times to all my classmates that I wish they'd give classes explicitly on translation techniques, where they assume already have the skills to know what is being said in a text, and can instead spend a lot of time discussing how we want to render that in English, and what choices we're making, for what effects, and why...

*stares off into the distance wistfully*

...anyway. At one job, I did a great deal of customer service email response, but wasn't the only one who did so. As the only person in the department at the time who spoke more than one language, I was often called upon to read email written technically in some form of English, and explain to other people what it meant. It actually surprised me the first time it came up that I could do that and other people couldn't, or at least couldn't do it as well; a lot of the unEnglish errors followed very common patterns that made them easy to untangle again.

#201 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 07:12 PM:

Craig R. @ 192: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and literacy."

All: I cannot thank you enough for brightening my afternoon. This is a Great Thread.

Adjective fans, passim: I seem to recall that J. R. R. Tolkien reported that he became fascinated with language scholarship as a child when he began to wonder why "a great green dragon" sounded so much better than "a green great dragon".

#202 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:12 PM:

Fade Manley @200:
I have been observed to wistfully note multiple times to all my classmates that I wish they'd give classes explicitly on translation techniques, where they assume already have the skills to know what is being said in a text, and can instead spend a lot of time discussing how we want to render that in English, and what choices we're making, for what effects, and why...

I took that class while studying Japanese. It was called "Problems of Translation", and was one of the two most interesting classes in my academic career.

#203 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:16 PM:

ACW @210, because great tells you its size, which tells you both how many hit dice it's got and how much damage its breath weapons does, while green just tells you the nature of the breath weapon (chlorine gas). The former gives you your strategy; the latter your tactics.

#204 ::: greening ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:35 PM:

Jim Macdonald @197:

so much depends
upon

a dead
armadillo

one of fucking six
we fucking hit.

(With sincere apologies to Mr. Williams.)

#205 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 08:52 PM:

Teresa, #194: "I can't believe we hit fucking six fucking armadillos on one stretch of highway."

The first occurrence of profanity is obviously an intensifier, but the second one is ambiguous -- is it also an intensifier, or a statement of contempt, or a simple description of what the (paired) armadillos were doing when hit?

... and I see Jim got there ahead of me, and more amusingly, @197.

#206 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 09:42 PM:

Jim 197: At this point Formal Navy becomes quite the tonal language

Actually I think that can be explained by phonemic stress, which is a phenomenon in the larger language of American English of which Formal Navy is a dialect. Intonation (as opposed to tone) is part of how stress is expressed in English (of all varieties). (While the above is true, I hope you realize that I'm mostly being tongue-in-cheek here.)

One of my favorite weird facts is that Proto-Indo-European was a tone language, but no modern Indo-European language is. The nearest thing is Swedish tonal accent, where sometimes the tone of a stressed syllable is distinctive; the rest of the IE family have alternation phenomena (like the o/e alternation in Russian) that are remnants of old tones, but no actual tone distinctions.

#207 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 10:35 PM:

Chris @202: I am wildly envious! I don't suppose there was any sort of text associated with the class that I might be able to track down? (Especially if it's one that's not exclusively concerned with Japanese translation.)

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 01:42 AM:

Fade @200, TNH @194:

One of my less-recognized but more time-consuming roles at the moment is Englishing our systems documentation. I'm learning a lot about other languages doing it.

(Dutch native speakers use adjectives for adverbs, because they aren't separate forms in their native language. But their word order is good. Poles omit definite articles, and need more reordering.)

#209 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 01:43 AM:

Xopher @206: "Proto-Indo-European was a tone language...." I was going to ask how we could possibly know that, but then I see that the rest of your paragraph at least partly answers that (i.e., because there's residue). I find it amazing and wondrous that we can know these kinds of things.

Fade Manley @200 et seq.: I once took a similar sort of class, on verse translation from Doug Hofstadter. It wasn't really precisely an ideal class on learning how to translate poetry as a professional skill, but I expected that going in, and it was the entertaining intellectual exercise that I expected it to be. Mostly what we had for texts were the (six or so) English translations of Eugene Onegin. There's a little of Hofstadter's thought process on the subject in Le Ton Beau de Marot, but again it's more the explorations of an amateur in the subject who's interested in what it reflects about human minds than about professional translation.

Meanwhile, your comment about TNH's description of "Englishing" reminds me of what I did for most of the yearbook class in my senior year of high school. (Did you know that "swift" can be used as a verb, and means something like "to send on an erratic and wandering path"? Neither did the teacher or I until we found it in the big unabridged dictionary, and neither did the author who wrote a headline of "A Swifted Kick" for the junior football team, but we didn't let that stop her.)

#210 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 01:44 AM:

I have sometimes shocked people with "fucking", when the tonal element of the usage gets lost in text. Most recently was when a bunch of programmers made some changes to a 'net service I regularly use, and there was a cascade of failures as the load rose over the weekend. It doesn't help that the provider company has some sort of Agile development scheme, with weekly roll-outs of new server code.

So I said something about the less-than-competent programmers in a weekly rush to produce badly-tested code, with management ignorant of what effect it had on paying customers, and rushing off every weekend to drink pina coladas in their hot tubs.

It might have sounded like an imaginary Abi who had served in the US Navy.

Incidentally, one of the stress points in Agile development, and the like, seems to be in the definition of "customer". If you get that wrong, and the "customer" is perhaps a higher lever manager, you risk things shooting off in sub-optimal directions. In a sense, Google's customer is the advertiser not the user, but there is a symbiosis.

#211 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 05:03 AM:

greening @204:

This is just to fucking say

I have fucking hit
the fucking six fucking armadillos
that were fucking in
the fucking road

and which
you were probably
saving
for a discussion on linguistics

Forgive me
they were intriguing
so crunchy
and so syntactically ambiguous

#212 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 05:51 AM:

James E @211 Snarf!

#213 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 06:28 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 194... Formal Navy? Great. Now my mind's radio is playing the Village People.

#214 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 07:16 AM:

Jim's Navy dialect does sound a bit formal to me, a local native speaker of Bad Language might say:

"I can't fucking believe we hit six fucking armafuckingdillos on one fucking stretch of highway."

...featuring expletive infixation

#215 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 08:50 AM:

ACW@201: Though when I read that passage of Tolkien it struck me that if 'Great Dragon' were a species it would be fine to say 'a green Great Dragon'.

#216 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 08:56 AM:

"Murder most foul!"
Why did they order us to off most chicken?

#217 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 10:31 AM:

#195 - Dave Nee: "Ah, must have using numbers from A. A. Wyn's statements."

I had occasion to ask one of the Elders of Publishing about which covers of the old Ace Double were returned for credit.

"Either ... or both."

Hence the discrepancies in royalty numbers - in those particular titles.

#218 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 10:31 AM:

Serge Broom @ #213:

Formal Navy!
It's one of many dialects!
Formal Navy!
It sounds like it's obsessed with sex!
Formal Navy!
But that's a fucking fallacy!
Formal Navy!
Formal Navy!


(You're welcome.)

#219 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 10:52 AM:

Steve with a book @ #182:

Umberto Eco once recommended that every novel should be titled simply with the name of its protagonist. Cuts straight through the question of appositeness (though originality is a different matter, as the makers of John Carter have perhaps discovered), but Eco was actually thinking about a different issue at the time.

The problem, he said, is that a title produces in the reader some idea of what the novel is about, which may be accurate or inaccurate. If accurate, it gives away something the author might have preferred to hold back until its proper moment in the story; if inaccurate, the reader will blame the novel for being other than expected. Naming the novel after the protagonist straightforwardly tells the reader nothing more or less than that it has a protagonist of that name.

He goes on to explain that the publishers wouldn't let him name his first novel Adso of Melk, so his backup plan was to give it a title invoking so many possible connotations that it would be impossible to form any solid preconceptions. Hence The Name of the Rose, which could mean just about anything and so means nothing.

(We may note that The Name of the Rose is not the only one of Eco's novels that fails to follow his own advice -- indeed, there is only Baudalino that does -- but it is the only one he'd written at the time, so we don't get to hear his excuses for the others.)

#220 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 11:13 AM:

Paul A @219: The problem, he said, is that a title produces in the reader some idea of what the novel is about, which may be accurate or inaccurate. If accurate, it gives away something the author might have preferred to hold back until its proper moment in the story; if inaccurate, the reader will blame the novel for being other than expected. Naming the novel after the protagonist straightforwardly tells the reader nothing more or less than that it has a protagonist of that name.

I love this theory; it's the sort of thing that's fun to argue with. For example, the assumption in the "if accurate" part where it assumes that the title's information is something that the author doesn't want to give away, as opposed to, say, something that the author does in fact want people to have in mind during the reading of the book. (God knows I title my poems with exactly that in mind.)

Or! The assumption that a book will have 1) one protagonist, 2) who has a single, known name, 3) both of which the author wants people to know from the start. I've also read books where anything from one to three of those points weren't true. (And a few in which different halves of #3 were false.)

The only conclusion I can come to is that authors should title books in such a way that the title conveys the title-based information the author wishes readers to have when reading that book.

But then we start getting into marketing...

#221 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 11:24 AM:

Paul A: One could argue that the protagonist of Foucault's Pendulum is in fact right there in the title, I think. :)

#222 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 11:27 AM:

Paul A @ 218... :-)

#223 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 11:30 AM:

Pictorial covers change things. Abstract art has mostly vanished. A Chris Foss spaceship was very unspecific. Now the whole information flow from author and publisher to reader is in the combined title and picture.

And then you have to start thinking about Amazon thumbnails.

When do we go back to just the title?

#224 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 12:00 PM:

Jim Macdonald @197: At this point Formal Navy becomes quite the tonal language,

Back when Whoopi Goldberg really started to become well-known, a lot of people were put off by her swearing. One of the criticisms levied was that it rendered her speach "unimaginative." It was obvious to me from the start, however, that she was using swearing very eloquently, but connotationally, rather than denotationally. There's almost a music in the way she uses profanity.

Paul A. @219: re: titles For some reason, titles and names have always been my favorite part of writing. For many years, I actually kept a file of possible character names.

Whatever other merits he might (or might not) have as a writer, J. Michael Straczynski has a truly inspired way with titles. They manage to be descriptive, but also simultaneously poetic and evokative.

Fade Manley @220: 2) who has a single, known name, 3) both of which the author wants people to know from the start. I've also read books where anything from one to three of those points weren't true. (And a few in which different halves of #3 were false.)

Bujold's Brothers in Arms leaps immediately to mind.

#225 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 12:17 PM:

Jacque @224: re: titles

Conversely, I'm absolutely dreadful at titling things. The only time I ever come up with a title that I like, it's something I got before the rest of the story came to me, and even those tend to be derivative. (My favorite short story title, "Tuesday Nights Are Ghost Nights At Slick Willie's Bowling Alley", can be fairly easily traced back to a more famous, actually published story title.)

What makes it all the more amusing to me, as I argue against Eco's title suggestion, is that my working titles... are just the names of my protagonists or a brief summary of the main plot point. (Which let me realize I was naming far too many characters some variant on Nicholas, but I digress.) And then when I need to submit the stories, or show them, I end up flailing for something to call it.

#226 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 01:09 PM:

Oh, G-d, titling things. I was very fond of one college Lit professor's pronouncement that we should forget about being clever and simply call our papers for his class "Paper 1", "Paper 2", etc.

#227 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 02:45 PM:

"Fuck" or "fuckin'", in vernacular Scots, is not an expletive but a punctuation particle. A bit like "uh" in valley-speak, you use it as a conversational comma.

But it's an amazingly versatile word -- a dessert topping and a floor wax! My favourite version being "the fucking fucker's fucking fucked", in which one word is used as four different grammatical objects in one sentence (pronoun, noun, adverb, verb).

#228 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 02:59 PM:

Charlie: Adjective, right? I don't see the pronoun.

#229 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 03:11 PM:

Speaking of fuck, just about all I've ever seen of The Wire is that one scene of the two cops tracing out the ballistics on a murder site, and all of the dialog is variations on the word.

#230 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 03:28 PM:

Titling blog posts is interesting. Half the time when I start trawling Larkin, Eliot or Auden for relevant things to riff off of, I end up referencing Beagle again.

#231 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 03:33 PM:

abi: Peter S, one presumes, not HMS?

#232 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 03:34 PM:

Really depends on the blog entry, I suspect.

#233 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 04:42 PM:

Xopher @ 206: Proto-Indoeuropean wasn't really a fully tonal language. In real tone languages, every syllable bears a distinctive tone, which belongs to a tone repertoire of between two and about a dozen.

In PIE and a few of its descendents, only the stressed syllable has distinctive tone. This kind of system is called "pitch accent". The Ancient Greek system and the Sanskrit one were inherited from the common ancestor, and form part of the evidence that allows us to infer PIE's pitch accent system.

But the pitch accent system of Swedish does not descend from the Proto-Indoeuropean system. Its ancestor, Old Norse, did not have pitch accent, but a simple stress accent (like English). The pitch accent of Swedish emerged when different stressed syllables were stressed differently based on phonetic context; then, language change sometimes eliminated the contextual triggers, leaving the distinctive pitch behind. (Probably all pitch accent systems emerge in this way, but we have no evidence for the pre-pitch-accent stage of PIE.)

I can't figure out whether the similar pitch-accent system of Serbocroatian is a true descendant of the PIE system, or if its heritage is more recent like Swedish.

#234 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 05:11 PM:

Thanks, ACW. Yeah, I really did get my linguistics degree in 1981...I guess I can't really assume that even historical linguistics was all done then!

However, I also didn't know Serbo-Croatian had a pitch accent system. I think I really was taught that Swedish was the only IE language that had it, and I doubt it's acquired it in the past 30 years. Since the professor who taught me that was a Slavicist, I wonder how he missed it.

(To be absolutely clear, I'm not doubting what you've said. I'm bemoaning the aging of my knowledge and the (lack of) quality of the original facts.)

#235 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 06:39 PM:

We talked about adjective order in noun phrases in episode 49 of Conlangery. There are a bunch of links to papers on adjective order in various languages in the show notes.

Re: titles, using the protagonist's name works for a wide range of books, but seems especially appropriate for the bildungsroman. Tobias Smollett, Charles Dickens and Jerome K. Jerome (whose Paul Kelver I am reading just now) all seem to agree with Eco to some extent. It breaks down when you have a series of books about the same protagonist, but one can easily form an open-ended series of titles of the form "[protagonist's name] and the [noun phrase denoting some entity the protagonist becomes involved with in this book]".

Some while ago I tried to analyze the titles of a bunch of stories to figure out patterns, and came up with the notion that a book's title can be based on its characters, its plot, its setting, or its theme. This thread has provided lots of examples of character-titled books; others include those where the title character is described but not named, e.g. most of Steven Brust's Dragaera novels. Jane Austen provides examples of character (Emma), setting (Northanger Abbey), and theme (Pride and Prejudice). Some titles combine character and plot reference, e.g. Trent's Last Case or The Westing Game. Most titles seem to fit one of those categories; a few refer to the time the book is set (e.g. Brust's Five Hundred Years After and the Dumas to which it alludes), which I boldly assert to be a subtype of setting-title.

#236 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 06:43 PM:

I should add that in the Vlad books, Brust manages to cover character, theme and arguably plot in one-word titles, which is tolerably impressive.

#237 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 06:49 PM:

Jim Henry @235: While reading your comment too briskly, I read "Jerome K. Jerome" as "J.K. Rowling", which only goes to support your point about protagonist-named bildungsroman series.

#238 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 06:55 PM:

Charlie Stross at #227: But it's an amazingly versatile word -- a dessert topping and a floor wax!
My favourite version being "the fucking fucker's fucking fucked", in which one word is used as four different grammatical objects in one sentence (pronoun, noun, adverb, verb).

May I present: the "FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK" t-shirt?

(I saw this for sale on NYC's St. Mark's Place a few years ago, but I have not yet seen it being worn by an actual person.)

#239 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 07:10 PM:

I really enjoy evokative, not-necessarily-descriptive titles, which are handily demonstrated by John Scalzi's The Name of My Next Band tumblr.

#240 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 09:23 PM:

TNH #194: " One of the less common freelance editorial jobs is called Englishing. You take a text that's been translated by someone who speaks ESL English, and render it into native English. Adjective order, prepositions, internal logic, and implicit connections always get a workout."

Would you believe that I've been engaged in doing something akin to that recently? It's been among the most interesting jobs I've undertaken. I will say that certain errors are committed in English by native speakers of Spanish, there being certain faux amis lurking for them in English (or, I would have to say, falsos amigos). The one I am rapidly coming to detest is "scenario".

Escenario is used in Spanish where scenario, scenery, scene, or setting would be used in English, depending on the context. In most of the cases I've been editing, "scenario" is being used for "setting". Very rarely is is it being used in the sense of "dramatic setting", or "scenario" tout court. It's been interesting to see how minds brought up in Castilian are struggling with English expository prose.

#241 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 09:36 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @239: My favorite false friend in the other direction has always been when English speakers attempt to express in Spanish that someone is embarrassed.

#242 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 09:57 PM:

Fragano @ 239: For a while I was doing Englishing for scientific papers (I took a hiatus so I could try and graduate, but I might pick it back up in small amounts). I think I mentioned it here before. It was usually lots of fun. But it could also get frustrating when the papers weren't directly in my field. Scientific and medical vocabulary and usage can be very specialized, and if you don't already use the jargon on a daily basis, it can be very difficult to divine the most natural-sounding word order. (It can also be difficult to figure out which word in the sentence was intended to be the verb, the subject, or the object. Sometimes you have to know a little bit about word order in the writer's native language to make an educated guess.)

#243 ::: John Ottinger ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 10:02 PM:

@#198 ::: Jim Macdonald

Yes, that is basically what it was. And yea, I get those kinds of requests often - usually for sites that are selling shoes or something. I had done it once before with no ill effects and a decent infographic but after this second experience I am off the notion for good.

#244 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 10:22 PM:

Fade Manley @207:
Here's the course syllabus, with required and supplementary reading lists.

#245 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2012, 11:42 PM:

Jim Henry @ #235: It breaks down when you have a series of books about the same protagonist, but one can easily form an open-ended series of titles of the form "[protagonist's name] and the [noun phrase denoting some entity the protagonist becomes involved with in this book]".

Or just the noun phrase, without "[protagonist's name] and the" prefixing it. Although that can get confusing if the entity denoted by the noun phrase is another character. Eco's essay on titles mentions The Three Musketeers as a title that can mislead about who the protagonist(s) is(are) if you don't notice the implicit "D'Artagnan and the" at the front.

#246 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:19 AM:

I have a friend whose favorite expletive phrase is a muttered-under-the-breath "Fuck me" (usually -- at least in the contexts in which I hear it -- an expression of despair at other people's idiocy). I find it hilarious, but quite inimitable. Probably a lot harder for a woman to pull off, anyway, though I'm sure some could manage. Anyone happen to know where this usage is most common? I'd guess off the top of my head northern England, but it's not terribly easy to get useful Google results, as you may imagine.

#247 ::: gottacook ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:46 AM:

"Fuck me," muttered to oneself, is a phrase I first heard spoken by Al Pacino's character in the 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon, which I first saw during its initial release. When I find myself saying it, it's probably in exact imitation of the instance in that movie; perhaps that's when it entered the world.

#248 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 04:19 AM:

#200: I did that job for a couple of years at a Japanese office-machine company. They called it "Native checking", with me being the Native speaker in question.

#249 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 08:45 AM:

Charlie Stross @227 (and other commentors)--I seem to see a Boondock Saints reference hovering on the horizon there.

#250 ::: Duncan j Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 08:55 AM:

#200 and #248 re: Englishing

That duty was one of the many collateral duties I performed as a US Navy officer stationed in Bella Napoli, attached to NATO Staff. My office-mate was a Turk, and he saw me as a living, breathing translator.

The two official languages of NATO are English and French -- and all correspondance that left NAVSOUTH was in English. Unfortunately for we 'native speakers', the English in question was British English. I had to learn all over again.

#251 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 09:45 AM:

May I remark that one of the more traumatic episodes in a writer's (hem!) career is being edited from British into American English.

#252 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 10:01 AM:

That Eco idea is fascinating. It doesn't allow for sequels, though I suppose you could call them Protagonist's Name Part 2. It doesn't allow for multi-character epics -- calling Sanderson's completion of the Wheel of Time Rand al Thor 12 wouldn't quite work. I suppose you can deal with it by having a name that covers all the protagonists like "The Children of Lir" or "Tevye and his daughters".

But when I was tearing my hair out stuck for a title for Among Others it never occurred to me to name it after the protagonist, whose name is in any case fluid. But I'm trying to think whether it would have worked as a book called Morwenna Markova, and like most of the wrong titles I thought of for it, it would have been a statement about the wrong thing. Interesting.

#253 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 10:09 AM:

Dave Luckett @251: See, I don't understand doing that (I read in both American and British English probably since I learned to read).

How else is one supposed to find out that jumpers are different items of clothing depending on which variant of English is used?

Shielding delicate American e/y/e/b/a/l/l/s/ sensibilities from different terminologies and spellings isn't exactly world-enlarging.

#254 ::: Brother Guy ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 11:27 AM:

Re: Englishing...

I agree, adapting books into or out of American English is a bad idea. (I once came across a version of the Hardy Boys, I believe, that had been Britainized... it was as brutal an experience as the American Harry Potters.) I first learned how to do inclueing (as a reader) from my childhood favorites, the Arthur Ransome books. Granted, his whole universe was as exotic to a mid-1960s American child as any fantasy novel.

I write a monthly column for a British periodical, The Tablet; I do try to write it in British, but it's a rare month that the editor doesn't have to correct one of my Americanisms.

On the other hand, in 2009 when I edited our Observatory's coffee-table book for the Year of Astronomy (The Heavens Proclaim, still in print and available at Amazon, etc.), about a third of the chapters were submitted to me in Italian. I was not only able to translate them into English to my satisfaction; in the process, since I was also the editor, in some cases I was able to substantially rewrite the text under the guise of "translation" into a style that was more pleasing to me. When the book later came out in an Italian edition, they re-translated my translated versions of the chapter back into Italian.

#255 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 11:59 AM:

Ooh, adapted Harry Potter novels. I was so annoyed at "Sorcerer's Stone" because I knew that was the Philosopher's Stone. Then I found out it was an editorial decision and got annoyed at a different group of people.

However, I think it's just as well they changed "jumper" to "sweater", because that's a false cognate with hilarious effect.

#256 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:02 PM:

Fade Manley #241: ¿Ser avergonzado de estar embarazada? Eso no me suena bien.

#257 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:03 PM:

I wish I could get someone to pay me for Englishing services. It's something I greatly enjoy doing.

#258 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:10 PM:

Caroline #242: So far, I've been dealing with people whose native language is one I do speak. It would be much harder if I had to work out what the idiom or usage was in their native language and then convert it into a specialism in English.

I have been working out of my my field (in one case not really far out of it, in the other way out). The benefit is that I've learnt quite a lot.

Of course, editing gigs are good for humility too. In one case, a while back, the person for whom I was doing the job, balked at my suggestion that they adopt the orthography for certain localisms indicated in the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, preferring older conventional spellings.

#259 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 12:17 PM:

Tortoise @152:

Those images (they're used as thumbnails) were automatically generated by the wordpress when the large image was uploaded there for the blog post; that's about all the info you can get out of them.

#260 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 01:03 PM:

Fade Manley #241

¿Que es difícil de decir 'avergonzado'?

#261 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 01:56 PM:

I've spent a fair bit of my career Englishing prose written by native speakers of American English.

How can this be, perhaps you ask? Well, written English, even in America, is a somewhat different dialect, in a sense, from any spoken English; and documentation written by people who have immersed themselves in "languages"* like C++, JavaScript, or Python is often...odd.

Also, there are (and this part I know everyone here knows) people who can communicate perfectly well in person, but who are incapable of putting together a coherent and comprehensible sentence in writing (of whom dyslexics are only the best-known example); and others who are so carried away by the possibilities of the written word that they write complex, formally "correct," but utterly undecodable prose. One of many reasons I curse† the name of Noam Chomsky.
_____
*Scare quotes because they're certainly not languages in the same sense English or Tosk or Rotokas or Nahuatl or Hausa or Tiwi are.
†No, not literally! That would violate my oath.

#262 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 02:59 PM:

HelenS #246: There's also "fuck me harder", which was common among the old Bandykin crew. The phrase got its own entry in the Jargon Dictionary.

#263 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 03:24 PM:

Jo @252: I can recall suggesting Morwenna, Morganna, which isn't a million miles away from Morwenna Markova. I agree it's not quite right.

#264 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 04:01 PM:

D. Potter, #253: Because there's no incluing on matters of idiom like that. I read some British children's stories when I was a kid, and there were a ton of words that I just had to *bleep* over, and others that turned what should have been normal sentences into "quack, quack". What did work in introducing me to British English was being in online communities with British people, where I could ask questions if I became hopelessly confused.

#265 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 06:24 PM:

My time Englishing scientific articles written by non-native speakers for submission to English and US journals was both fun and instructive. It made me realise that English prepositions are really really hard to master.

That was reinforced when I copyedited a book manuscript for an eminent Australian historian, born here, who grew up in a Greek-speaking family and only learnt English when she went to school. Despite the fact that she never learnt to read and write her nursery language, and that her entire career has been in English, and very language-focussed (lecturing, researching and writing), I could tell that she was not a native speaker by her prepositions.

#266 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 09:04 PM:

253
My mother read a lot of British (mostly English) mysteries. It resulted in my being more bilingual that most Americans ('Mind the lorry round the next bend').

#267 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 11:04 PM:

Xopher @261: I performed services like that for the Journal of Herpetology, for several years -- just because someone has multiple advanced degrees doesn't mean they know how to write a sentence that isn't tangled in upon itself in multiply-passive clauses. Even if they are native speakers of Spoken English, they default to deep-jargon when writing in their field, and can get kind of rambly and odd.

#268 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2012, 11:29 PM:

I also meant to add that being an Australian English speaker means one is equally uncommitted to either British or American English. That, plus the conveniently opposite time zone, is part of a pitch for northern hemisphere editing jobs -- "I'll edit to whatever crazy style guide you give me". Of course, I have my private opinions, and I do enjoy the Australian jobs where I can strike out all those damn 'z's.

#269 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 03:56 AM:

Re: "jumper", this is the first time I've come across the American version - and I actually had to go look it up to find out what it was (what we would call a pinafore dress). I find that interesting, because I've been reading American English as well as British English books for most of my life. Or maybe I -did- read that a woman was wearing a jumper, or pulled on a jumper, and just assumed that what was meant was a "sweater".

I have on occasion assisted mainland-European colleagues with making their scientific writing colloquially correct English as well as scientifically correct. Sometimes took several back-and-forths.

#270 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 08:19 AM:

HelenS @246: I have heard it said effectively by a woman: Kim Dickens as chef Jeanette DeSautel in the first season of Treme. It carried *exactly* weariness and frustration and no ambiguity of invitation whatsoever. (I have tried to carry it off myself and find that I am not Kim Dickens.)

#271 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 11:05 AM:

Jim Macdonald #260: Eso debía ser ¿Qué hay de dificil en decir "avergonzado"? A eso no le voy llamar "españolear" porque ese modismo se empleó para describir a un neno que nació durante los años franquistas con una lunar en la cara semejante a la mapa de España.

#272 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 11:40 AM:

Teresa all the way back @ 39

As a fellow fan of A Canticle For Leibowitz, I thought you might be interested in a new reading/dramatisation, which will be broadcast on Radio 4 Extra starting next Monday.

#273 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 01:18 PM:

I am here just to recommend, again, The use of the F-word in Canada, by Bowser and Blue. Oh, and Bowser and Blue in general.

Please ignore the subbing if you know any French or are planning on learning it...the subber tries, but even I know he's getting it wrong. And no, not every comic song out of Canada is done by the Arrogant Worms.

#274 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 01:46 PM:

B Durbin @255, funny thing about the Americanized Potter books: As you mentioned, in the first couple of books they translated a lot of British terms (jumper, knickerbocker glory) into the American equivalents (sweater, ice cream sundae), while leaving intact the terms specific to the Wizard culture (muggle). One they left untranslated was humbug, a kind of hard candy, because apparently Scholastic thought it was a Wizard word instead of common British.

I'd thought James Morrow's recent novel The Philosopher's Apprentice was so named as a play off of the re-titling of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but when I asked Morrow about this, he said it wasn't.

#275 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 02:34 PM:

Avram, #274: Given the American meaning of knickerbockers, the mental image I was getting was really strange; I'm very glad you provided the translation. Is that rhyming slang?

#276 ::: Lee has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 02:40 PM:

I have some Cranberries in the Snow...

(Stir fresh cranberries with enough Karo syrup or equivalent to make them sticky; roll in confectioners' sugar until heavily coated; let dry. Easy and fabulous! Do not try to use cranberries which have been frozen for this.)

#277 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 04:14 PM:

Lee @275: It looks like the basic Knickerbocker Glory recipe was invented in the US (possibly NYC?) during the early 20th century; it was transmitted to the UK but primarily still thought of as an American import for several decades.

The earliest cite I've found for it so far on Google Books is in the Wireless World and Radio Review, vol. 19, p426 (1926)-- Google seems to've done somethiing to its interface again, so some search combinations will pull that up but others won't. "If there is anything better than a 'Knickerbocker Glory' at the soda fountain for making the average American gurgle with delight, it's a genuine pat on the back. He likes it laid on thick."

So the "Knickerbocker" part of the name may've originated to emphasize its NY origin?

#278 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 04:53 PM:

I always thought of a Knickerbocker Glory as being something a small boy (of the age to wear short pants) would particularly delight in, but that's probably a completely invented etymology on my part.

#279 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 05:16 PM:

HelenS: I had though the same. However, Wikipedia suggests it may be called after a Chicago hotel. It would seem that there have in fact been several Knickerbocker hotels, of which the oldest was probably in New York (so I'm not sure why Wikipedia picked the Chicago one); the name derives from the Knickerbocker family in Washington Irving's History of New York, which is also the inspiration for the trousers, and for the New York Knickerbockers (commonly called the Knicks).

#280 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Another possible origin is that "Knickerbocker" seems to've been the name of a manufacturer of "fountain chocolate" used for ice cream toppings-- this ref from June 1908 has several ice cream sundae recipes, although they don't seem to have the distinctive layered effect.

This ref from 1903 seems to establish the origin of the Knickerbocker "fountain chocolate" company as a successor to another company, JH Barker?

#281 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 02:30 AM:

My finest Knickebocker Glory moment, from June of 2000:

Is that The One Where Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are caught in a conflict between the natives, and near the end at the native feast they serve them egg creams, and Kirk realizes that these are the ragged descendants of the lost colonists of New Amsterdam, and he bursts into tears, and then everybody sings "September Song?"

#282 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 05:31 AM:

Meanwhile, over Thanksgiving, a team of non-turkey-ingesting Australians just smashed the world sail speed record with an exotic vessel that managed to set a 54.08 knot record (and peaked at around 60 knots).

Yes, we live in an age of carbon-fibre hulled aerofoil-driven catamaran hydrofoils that can do over a hundred kilometres per hour.

(Yes, it's off-topic, but I thought Jim might be interested, and it's no more off-topic than the etymology of the Knickerbocker Glory. Which was a special treat of my childhood and I always associate with the cafe in a particularly dusty 1970s department store in Dewsbury.)

#283 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 08:36 AM:

Mary Aileen@141 See also the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre, who get frequent phonecalls asking about school trips to see the monkeys....

#284 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 11:23 AM:

Charlie #282

The current America's Cup boats are wing sails:

http://www.americascup.com/en/about/boats

Also: Her high-heeled boots went clattering down the Knickerbocker line.

#285 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 03:09 PM:

Jim #284, that's a song, right? (I googled; I seek confirmation, because I've never heard of it.)

#286 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2012, 03:15 PM:

That's right, Charlie. A song. http://www.last.fm/music/The+Flash+Girls/_/Knickerbocker%2BLine%252F%2BDrowsy%2BMaggie

#287 ::: An Infinitude of Tortoises ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 02:06 AM:

Bob @238:

May I present: the "FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK" t-shirt?

Oh, how dearly I'd love to make something like that shirt at Zazzle, but they're a little prim there; I've had to settle for the likes of "Swive ye!". Guaranteed to offend a somewhat different crowd.

Naturally, when reading of such things one can't help but recall joke #640 in Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor....

paxed @259: As I'd suspected, more or less, but it's good to have confirmation. So evidently it's Wordpress that's a few versions behind in their IJG libraries.

#288 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 10:21 AM:

AIOT: is a person who has been swived (or with whom one swives—not sure of the transitivity* there) a swife?

Just askin'.

*Also, is it swive, swove, have swiven?

#289 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 10:33 AM:

"Swive" (Chaucer spells it "swyve"), swyved, swiven. Transitive, at least some of the time ("thus swyved was this carpenter's wife").

#290 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 11:00 AM:

Well, yeah, but so is 'f*ck'. You can ~ someone, or ~ with someone. Also, gay men construe the grammar of the verb differently than straight people; among gay men 'George ~ed Michael' means something different from 'Michael ~ed George', and 'George and Michael ~ed' can mean either or both.

And is that pronounced swyvèd, like that?

Also, I was playing. I know your information is real, but I hope you don't mind my continuing to play.

#291 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 11:28 AM:

Xopher: I figured you were playing, but my inner pedant refuses to be denied her opportunity to play as well.

And yeah, I think swyvèd.

I don't know that I've ever seen "A and B swyved" (together); I've seen "A swyved" (in general, as it were) and "A swyved B". But my experience with Middle English was limited, and a long time ago, and has since been superseded by several layers of other kinds of jargon.

#292 ::: Fragano Ledgister is off with the raggle-taggle gnomies o! ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 11:47 AM:

Lila #289: It's also "swyve" in the "Song of Lewes" which was written in 1265:

Richard of Alemaigne, whyl that he was kyng
He spende al his tresour opon swyuing"

#293 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 11:58 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @292, I think you forgot to resent your nym....

(I just listened to my CD of Planxty singing that very song yesterday....)

#294 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 12:00 PM:

Me, @293, to clarify, I didn't listen to "Song of Lewes", I listened to "The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy."

#295 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 09:27 PM:

Helen @ 246

You know, I'd never thought of "Fuck Me" as being particularly gendered. I use it fairly consistently, but then, I use many curse words fairly consistently (I do try to moderate the impulse in mixed company).

Though I'm coming to believe that just about anything you do frequently and unapologetically can be made to blend into the background over time.

#296 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2012, 01:02 AM:

HelenS @246, the first time I ever heard "fuck me" as an expletive, it was from a woman (1984, upstate NY).

#297 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2012, 05:52 AM:

Steve with a book @182 - The one that came to mind was Stephen Baxter's Evolution, subtitled "a novel" presumably to prevent confusion with biology textbooks. Interestingly it could have been called Evolution, a collection of linked stories as easily as "a novel".

HelenS @246 Working in a secondary school in Kent I found it hard to maintain the proper attitude for telling off girls for telling people to "suck my cock".

#298 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2012, 03:56 PM:

The regional variation I'm familiar with in Australia is 'Fuck me dead!', used as an intensifier usually, as in 'and then, fuck me dead if he didn't [do something rather surprising]!'.

Not an expression I've ever been comfortable using, but it can lend piquancy to a good story.

#299 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2012, 04:06 PM:

Emma, it's used here as a general expression of annoyance or dismay.

I used to know a guy who added "'til I bleed" to the end. And of course there's the famous line from Heathers "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw! Do I look like Mother Theresa?" No, Heather, you definitely don't.

#300 ::: little pink beast ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 04:37 AM:

Jim Henry @ 235: Germinale: setting, or theme? Ghost in the Shell: theme, or protagonist? (Those two come to mind easily, simply because they're the X meets Y of one of my current writing projects.)

Re: the "Fuck me..." series of utterances - the one I'm most familiar with is "Fuck me sideways."

#301 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 08:07 AM:

Anime: Partly to help her organize the experience and partly for our own amusement, I was going to make a list of stereotypical (one could call cliched?)

anime settings: high school, space ship, secret organization, rural Japanese country town, big Japanese city, etc

and another of Stock Characters: the tall imposing dark-skinned guy; the crinkly-faced tiny old man; the crinkly-faced tiny old woman; the boy everyone thinks is a girl; the girl (often a bandit-queen or similar) who dresses in porno versions of men's clothes and is Stronger Than Any Man; etc

... and then a separate check-off list (or bingo card?) of

stereotypical plot twists/Stuff That Happens: the unrequited crush That Dare Not Speak Its Name; oh hai sudden nakedness!; leading two separate lives; OMGharem; etc

... so we can watch for them and appreciate their typicality when they happen.

Or maybe that's too organized to actually happen, but it's a sweet thought. :-> We could characterize each title we watch by listing off the things that apply to it, possibly leading to some interesting insights across titles.

Suggestions welcomed.

Some anime that use their cliches use them straight-faced, and some (Ouran High School Host Club for one; I'm certain I've seen others but I'm blanking) are deliberately satirizing their genres, which is hard to 'get' if you don't have the underlying assumption explained before you see it.

I'm thinking there may be some pause-requests coming from each of us -- from her when we hit a JAPAN IS WEIRD moment (thank you, Moviebob)/strange-to-Westerners narrative assumption, or from me when something very characteristic happens, so I can lampshade it and provide context.

#302 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 08:27 AM:

And, despite the recent anime mention, the REST of the anime discussion is actually over in the Open Thread, so I've reposted my last there where it belongs. Sigh.

#303 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 09:59 AM:

Regarding Title: A novel, Both my boss and I often find such subtitles quite useful, indeed necessary, when shelving books at his bookstore. Between namespace issues and the whims of cover choice, it's often not at all obvious.

Almost as useful is "... a biography", where that isn't obvious.

#304 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 11:00 AM:

I think I shall start a band called 'Title: A Novel'.

#305 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 12:48 PM:

Once, working on the third book on a three-book contract, I seriously proposed to turn in a novel named "UNTITLED: A SPACE OPERA". About a former lordling from some space empire that's just had a revolution and abolished the aristocracy.

One of my editors proposed to enact grievous bodily harm on my ass if I did so. Then pointed out exactly what was likely to happen when that title hit Amazon's database (not to mention all the other booksellers), which was a lot harder to argue against -- I enjoy eating, y'know?

I got my revenge: what I handed in was SATURN'S CHILDREN. The sequel is NEPTUNE'S BROOD. And if the third in the trilogy ever gets written, it will be named something like SPAWNING URANUS (with British pronounciation, not the American bowdlerised version).

#306 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 02:19 PM:

If I were Tom Jones, I'd write a novel called Henry Fielding, just because. See also: this problem and this comic.

#307 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2012, 02:39 PM:

Actually I've just reminded myself of a bugbear—biographies whose title is just the name of the subject. Too often in second-hand shops I see John Doe and Jane Roe on the spine and not know who has written about whom. A canonical example where ': $nature_of_book' after the title would be helpful.

#308 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 05:41 AM:

Charlie @305: It might be a bit weedy of me, but I trained myself long ago to pronounce Uranus as "OOR-un-uss". Just because of the jokes....

#309 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 01:17 PM:

Steve with a book (307): Not just biographies. Novels named for people can have the same problem. And my library once catalogued paperback mystery Roman Blood by Steven Saylor as "PB MYS Blood" instead of "PB MYS Saylor".

#310 ::: gottacook ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 09:18 AM:

#305 and #308: You could always use "Herschel" (the discoverer's surname; he himself didn't call it Uranus, nor did he name it after himself, but both names for the planet were in use as late as 1895 - so says my Collier's Cyclopedia of that year, which calls it both Herschel and Uranus). Hence, HERSCHEL'S HATCHLINGS.

#311 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 10:15 AM:

Came in late and have time only to read the first 150 or so comments today. I feel compelled to respond to two:

--E @18, and here I thought we more commonly ran out of ones.

Serge @95 made me laugh hard enough that I am very glad I wasn't drinking anything while I was reading this morning. Merci, I needed that.

#312 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 11:24 PM:

Faith Hunter, Jane Yellowrock--- which one is the urban fantasy character?

#313 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 11:55 PM:

And all of this planetary talk has me thinking about They Might Be Giants' song about the order of the planets, which ends with "and a bunch of other stuff." A Bunch of Other Stuff would be an excellent book title.

#314 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2012, 08:59 AM:

Steve with a book #306: I assume given a certain pop-med author, bookstores have been through that long ago.

Nancy Lebovitz #312: I actually read her Bloodring trilogy first, and was all "no way is that the author's real name, it's just too convenient!" Not that I actually know one way or the other....

#315 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2012, 11:16 PM:

'Fuck me' is definitely in use in the UK, along with 'bugger me' and various baroque intensifiers. The google ngram viewer implies 'bugger me' is earlier though printing fuck before 1960 may have been tricky.

#316 ::: john who is incognito and definitely not at work ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 12:50 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 102 says:

Here's the thing about a lot of those "infographics", though: they're just a more visually sophisticated version of those spammy, content-farmed articles whose real purpose is to get links and Googlejuice.

And he is not alone in this assessment.

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