Boobs vs. tits: a first look

When you don’t call breasts breasts, are you more likely to call them boobs or tits?

Let’s take it as a given that you are more likely to talk of them at all if you are a male novelist. That’s intuitively obvious (at least to me, and to many others) and has lately been much remarked on. To the annoyance of many women, breasts are sexualized in the male gaze in our society (but by no means in all societies; some find the idea frankly silly). So men, and notably horndog novelists, are apt to talk about them. But…

…here’s the thing. When women talk about how tiresome this is, I have been struck by how often they use the word boobs.

I’m not going to say guys never use the word boobs, because that’s not true, but my experience is that if you see the word boobs, it’s probably written by a woman. Guys talk about tits, hooters, jugs, cleavage, a nice rack, and, of course, breasts, but my impression has long been that boobs is a word that skews strongly to female authors (let’s be scientific and call this hypothesis 1), while tits, on the other hand, is a word male authors are more likely to use (hypothesis 2).

So I decided to check this out with a little corpus research. Continue reading

‘A pee’ vs. ‘a wee’ and the subtleties of translation in Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar

I recently read Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar, translated into English from the original Swedish. It was a perfectly Scandinavian murder mystery, and for the majority of the book I did not notice it was a work in translation. There was one thing that kept tripping me up as I read:

image

Continue reading

Collocations of ‘cock’: What corpus linguistics tells us about porn writing

This is a guest post by Orin Hargraves, an independent lexicographer, language researcher, and past president of the Dictionary Society of North America. Orin is the author of several language reference books, including It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés (Oxford) and Slang Rules!: A Practical Guide for English Learners (Merriam-Webster).

*

A few years ago I wrote about how collocations in fiction skew the statistics of collocations in a corpus because of their extremely frequent use; Ben Zimmer expanded on the idea in a later New York Times piece. In summary, the point is that a number of collocations would not be statistically significant were it not for their appearance in fiction. This is because writers of fiction—particularly writers of the amateur, unedited fiction that appears online—tend to reuse the same tropes and phrases so much that these effectively become clichés, formulaic ways of expressing the same (rather tired) ideas and events.

All of that came to light when I was working with the Oxford English Corpus, a well balanced and carefully curated corpus that, at the time, had about two billion words of English. These days I’m working with the enTenTen13 corpus, a web-crawled corpus of nearly 20 billion words, owned and made available by Sketch Engine. Sketch Engine’s web-crawler roves the Internet indiscriminately, pulling text from wherever it can be found. Like some grandmother aghast in Greenville, the web-crawler regularly comes upon sites with pornographic content. The difference between the grandmother and the web-crawler is that while she may avert her gaze in shock and dismay, the web-crawler grabs the text, parses and tags it, and adds it to the corpus. The result is that enTenTen13 houses a steaming, pulsating trove of pornographic writing.

Continue reading