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Quiz: Can you guess the authors from their 'favorite' words?

July 27, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Ray Bradbury: famous writer and lover of cinnamon. (Pierre Verdy/AFP via Getty Images)

Ray Bradbury had an affinity for cinnamon. Not just the ingredient, but the word itself.

In "The Logophile's Orgy," a 1995 book that featured authors waxing poetic about their favorite words, Bradbury revealed that "cinnamon" was one of his. The preference came from fond memories of rummaging through his grandmother's pantry as a child and reading the spice labels. Years later, author Ben Blatt picked up the book and came across the late Bradbury's entry. Intrigued by Bradbury's professed love of "cinnamon," Blatt decided to analyze Bradbury's writing for how often the word appeared.

Using statistical analysis, Blatt discovered that Bradbury used "cinnamon" at an unusually frequent rate, compared with the 50 other authors in a sample that included Neil Gaiman, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov and J.K. Rowling. Out of the 50, only Morrison used "cinnamon" more often.

Blatt soon applied his analytical technique to other authors in an attempt to identify their "cinnamon words." In a sense, it was his attempt to guess their "favorite" words.

It turns out that if you apply some math to your favorite literature, you come away with a whole new understanding of what makes the text tick.

The data possibly showed "something about Ray Bradbury's personality that you would never know," Blatt said.

Further analysis revealed that Bradbury had a fondness for words describing spice and flavor. The "Fahrenheit 451" author's frequent use of "spearmint," for instance, was a "true outlier," compared with how frequently it was used by other authors in the set, Blatt writes.

"As a big book nerd myself, I felt there was so much untapped information," said Blatt, who has a background in sports analysis and data journalism. "Anytime I read a book, you notice trends here and there. As I'm reading, I was noticing these trends."

In his book published this year, "Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and our Own Writing," Blatt sets out criteria for identifying an author's "cinnamon words." He writes: 

Using these guidelines, he expanded his search for "cinnamon words" beyond Bradbury, eventually analyzing the bodies of work of 100 authors, including Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times bestsellers.

Drawing from Blatt's research, we've selected the "cinnamon words" of eight writers. Would you be able to identify which authors had a particular affinity for each set of words? 

Can't see the Quiz?Click Here.

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It must be used be in half an author’s books.

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It must be used at a rate of at least once per 100,000 words\xa0throughout an author’s books.

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It must not be so obscure that it’s used less than once per million in the Corpus of Historical American English.

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It is not a proper noun.

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Kayla Epstein is the social media editor for National at The Washington Post. She specializes in blending traditional reporting and social media to tell stories and engage readers. She previously worked for the Guardian US, where she worked in support of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that broke the National Security Agency stories.

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