Statistician Ben Blatt, in his newest book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, took a mathematical view of thousands of classic and contemporary books and discovered, among many other things:

  • Male writers write mostly about men while female writers write equally about men and women.
  • In classic literature, males were more likely to write that a female character “interrupted” than a male character.
  • In the books that were studied, James Patterson used the most cliches (160 per 100,000 words in 22 Alex Cross books) while Jane Austen used the fewest (45 per 100,000 words in six novels). Shakespeare was the first to write “dead as a doornail” and “in a pickle.” Other authors turned them into cliches.
  • James Joyce didn’t buy into the argument against exclamation points: 1,105 per 100,000 words.

The book is interesting and entertaining. The chapter about adverbs would be useful for all English teachers and anyone who likes to believe there are “rules” about writing. I just wish it had an index.