Authors’ Pet Words and What They Reveal

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How much do an author’s most-used words reveal about his or her thought process?

Quite a lot, according to this New Yorker essay on pet words both common and uncommon, both consciously selected and inadvertent. One of many deeply interesting examples:

Even if we’d never read Milton, we might surmise something of his vast, magisterial temperament on being told that “law” emerges some fifty times in his complete poems. We might surmise something further on discovering that “Hell” surfaces nearly as often as “love.”


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →