A double ration of something

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Readers of yesterday's discussion of lucking out may wonder what Jack Reacher, a somewhat eccentric man of action, would think of an extended discussion of his lexical choices.  For a clue, if not an answer, we can turn to a passage in the same novel where he learns some crucial information from an old MP colleague named Stan Lowrey. Reacher had earlier asked Lowrey to make unofficial inquiries about a woman named Audrey Shaw, whose fingerprints were found in the house of one of the women murdered in The Affair.


  1. Michael Carasik said,

    October 9, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

    "Having thus briefly introduced my reader to the world, and given him some idea of its form and situation, he will naturally be curious to know from whence it came, and how it was created. And, indeed, the clearing up of these points is absolutely essential to my history, inasmuch as if this world had not been formed, it is more than probable that this renowned island, on which is situated the city of New York, would never have had an existence. The regular course of my history, therefore, requires that I should proceed to notice the cosmogony of formation of this our globe."

    — Washington Irving, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, ch. 2

  2. bfwebster said,

    October 9, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

    James Michner, of course, was famous for starting off his novels in this way (e.g., "Hawaii", which starts out with the geological creation of the Hawaiian Islands).

    On another tack, my first job after graduating from college was at General Dynamics in San Diego (1978-79). I worked for the Western Data Systems Center — in effect, we were a pool of software engineers who could be made available (on an hourly basis) to all the other engineering projects at GD.

    Our group manager was Tom Reed. We'd have a group meeting every Monday morning, regardless of what project we were individually worked on. Tom would start out the meeting with an overview of the current world geopolitical status. He'd then tie that into current US government, military, and political trends. He'd then talk about how that was impacting General Dynamics throughout the entire country. Then he'd narrow that down to the various projects and efforts at GD/San Diego. And then he tied that into our current assignments (present and potential) at the WDSC.

    Thus, for example, I knew that my work on Bayesian analysis of various side-looking radar characteristics coming back from wheeled vs. tracked vehicles — in order to find the 3 characteristics (out of quite a few) that provides the best classification — was directly tied to the then-current Soviet tactic of putting plywood tank "shells" on top of trucks and mixing them in with actual tanks stationed along the East-West European border in order to spoof US satellite efforts to determine number, deployment, and movement of actual tanks along that border.

  3. GeorgeW said,

    October 9, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

    As an aside, in this excerpt, there is a use of 'not necessarily' that I have wondered about for some time. Maybe, it is worth a thread of its own. I have been see this frequently.

    Is the speaker suggesting that he might have been worried about falling down from shock but more likely because of the length of Lowrie's stories?

    Sorry for the diversion.

  4. D.O. said,

    October 9, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    @GeorgeW. I would classify it as an understatement.

  5. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    October 9, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

    @D.O.: This example is understatement, but it's part of a general usage that is not always understatement. See, for example, the many hits at http://www.google.com/search?q="now,+I'm+not+necessarily+*+but".

  6. Doreen said,

    October 10, 2011 @ 2:21 am

    Anybody want to do a quick corpus search to find out how much more likely Reacher/Child/whoever's speaking in that turn (I can't keep track) would be to say that someone's mother was named — rather than "called" — Audrey if he really were American?

    [(myl) The effect here seems to be a pretty small one at best. Searching for

    mother|father|sister|brother|son|daughter|cousin|friend was named

    turns up 20 hits in COCA (4.7 per 100 million words) vs. 4 in the BNC (4 per 100 million words); Searching for

    mother|father|sister|brother|son|daughter|cousin|friend was called

    gets 28 hits in COCA (6.6 per 100 million words) vs. 12 in the BNC (12 per 100 million words).

    Another way to think about those numbers is that in phrases of the form "RELATION was named|called", the American corpus has 58% "called" while the British corpus has 75% "called". This is hardly a categorical difference.]

  7. Zubon said,

    October 10, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    The song is named The Aged Aged Man, and it is called Ways and Means, but the name is called Haddocks' Eyes, and it really is A-sitting On a Gate.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 10, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    I would have thought the one show-offy piece of knowledge about "Audrey" to drop in this sort of context would have been the etymology of "tawdry." But more importantly, unless this apparently-recently-published novel is set a number of years back, the novelist's research assistant failed to take a minute to check the Social Security Administration's awesome baby names data base, which would have revealed that Audrey has over the last decade reached all-time highs in popularity (it reentered the top 100 names given to U.S-born girls in 2003 after being absent since 1940 and its placings in 2007 through 2010 inclusive are higher than the previous record achieved in 1926 and 1933 — the dataset goes back to births in 1880).

    It's like corpus linguistics. Don't rely on your unreliable impressionistic sense of when particular first names went in and out of favor. You can just look it up.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 10, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    OK, to be fair to the novelist, this 2011-published novel is apparently set at least in part in 1997, so the character presumably would have been limited by the data available to him at that time, including (because the SSA year-of-birth data was not then as widely available) the old 1990 census dataset alluded to, with all of its limitations. But that doesn't excuse the failure to bring up the "tawdry" factoid.

  10. Janice Byer said,

    October 13, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Doreen, good catch on "called" sounding British not American in Reacher's reference to a given name of a third party. FWIW, "named Audrey" yielded six times as many ghits as "called Audrey" with many of the latter upon inspection proving to be within statements, where "called" meant either "telephoned" or to have declared Audrey to be something.

  11. mollymooly said,

    October 14, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    Having once had my throat blessed on St Blaise's Day, I must quibble that while Audrey may be *a* patron saint of throat complaints, she is not *the* patron saint.

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