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19 December 2005 @ 11:40
Violet Fudge (a Lulu of a title)  

I am grateful to Bill Poser at Language Log and merle_ at The Book of Merle for bringing to my attention the Lulu Book Title Analyzer. The LBTA purports to estimate the chances that a given title belongs to a (potential or actual) best-selling novel by comparing some of its formal properties with those of known bestsellers from the New York Times' lists for the years 1955–2004. It requires the user to do a bit of semantic and syntactic analysis on the input: one is asked to indicate whether the title is "literal" or "figurative" (where "figurative," according to the explanation provided, also encompasses titles that have both a literal interpretation and an allusive or allegorical one), to identify the "title grammar type" from a somewhat perplexing list of alternatives, to indicate the syntactic categories of the first two words, and to say whether the title contains the name of a person or place.

However the algorithm works, it apparently refuses (quite sensibly, in my opinion) to say that any title is completely hopeless, or that any title is a sure winner: "Results are between 9% and 83% chance of bestseller success," says the blurb. Poser's post reports on the scores of some real titles (not necessarily of novels); I decided to take up the challenge posed at the bottom of the page: "So, as well as using the Titlescorer to test the merits of your own title, you can also play around with it to see what is the worst or downright weirdest title you can come up with that still earns a high score." I won by lying through my teeth keyboard.

At this point, I would like to apologize to a woman named Violet Fudge, who runs a bed and breakfast in Alberta, and whom I had never heard of until I Googled her name, which happens to be the same as the pseudorandom implausible adjective+noun sequence that popped into my head when I was fiddling around with the Lulu Book Title Analyzer. I hope she will not be offended if I say that I do not think her name is especially likely to be the name of a best-selling novel. At any rate, I typed those words into the title field of the LBTA's form, and then, figuring that "Violet Fudge" all by itself was not nearly weird enough, I decided to give the LBTA blatantly contradictory information on how to parse it. I said, truthfully enough, that the "grammar type" was "adjective with noun," but then I told it that the first word was a verb and the second was an exclamation or greeting. (Neither of these statements is necessarily false; fudge is certainly an exclamation, and if you look up violet in the OED, you will find a smattering of examples along the lines of "How delightful was that day among the Kentish Downs! We began it by violeting in the woods" and "The sea,/ Yet darklier violeted, almost frowned/ With splendor." But violetV plus fudgeInterj does not equal [violet fudge]"Adjective with noun".) I further told the LBTA that the title was figurative rather than literal, and that it contained the name of a person or place (even though, at that point, I did not yet know of Ms. Fudge's existence). I clicked the "Analyze my title!" button, and Lulu responded:

This book title has a [sic] 83.1% chance of being a bestseller title

Well, w00t. Now all I need to do is write the book, and if I can somehow arrange for the title to be simultaneously Adj+N and V+Interj and contain a proper name, I'll be all set. Would anyone care to offer me an advance?

(Deleted comment)
Q. Pheevr: Portrait of the blogger as a young Pogueq_pheevr on 19. December, 2005 09:45 (UTC)

Hmm... in a few more trials, I've consistently scored 83.1% whenever I selected "figurative," "adjective with noun," "verb," "exclamation, greeting," and "yes," regardless of what I put in the title field. (I haven't done this enough times to be at all confident of the significance of the results, just enough times to get bored with it.)

Merle: lambdamerle_ on 19. December, 2005 18:39 (UTC)
That is... disturbing. But perhaps it has not been trained to deal with deviant situations, or cases where you are obviously lying about the structure? (it cannot be "figurative" in my book if it is "adjective with proper noun")

I suppose gerunds can act as adjectives. And one could have the same name as an exclamation or a greeting. "Winning Hello" seems to work. But if I say it is literal and not figurative, chances drop to a mere 61.1%.
(Anonym) on 20. December, 2005 19:34 (UTC)

(it cannot be "figurative" in my book if it is "adjective with proper noun")

Why not? It seems to me that whether the title is figurative or literal depends on its relation to the content of the book, rather than on anything about the title in and of itself. I don't think there's any kind of title that could never be figurative.

Merlemerle_ on 22. December, 2005 18:10 (UTC)
That is true. I would, however, be surprised to see a book named "Curious George" that did not include a character known as George who was considered in some sense to be curious.

If the proper noun is a historical referent (so the title is a metaphor) I could see figurative titles with proper nouns. So I do see your point. I failed to think metaphorically, as so many books are quite direct in their titles.
Sick and Wickedoakwonder on 25. December, 2005 01:17 (UTC)
I envisage a smash-hit successor to Chocolat or Babette's Feast, neither of which I've seen but which I vaguely gather were whimsical and food-related. Violet Fudge from her B&B in Alberta is challenged by her friends, as a joke, to produce a special kind of food to make her B&B noteworthy out in that dreary prairie. To their surprise the actual combination of violeted fudge works wonders, though VF had scoffed at the idea (using her favourite exclamation).