“Cinnamon Words”: Words Famous Authors Can’t Get Enough Of

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Guitarists have signature riffs, rappers their ad-libs, pop stars their dance moves. And authors? Well, they have words.

No, duh,  you may be thinking. But there are some authors who have a tendency to use certain words statistically more often than others. These are cinnamon words, as data journalist Ben Blatt memorably dubbed them in his 2017 book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing.

Here are 10 cinnamon words or expressions consistently used by some of our most beloved authors throughout their stories. Look closely—maybe you already have recognized a few!

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Ray Bradbury: "cinnamon"

First off, why cinnamon words? Ben Blatt found that Ray Bradbury frequently used the word cinnamon across his novels and short stories in descriptions of everything from roads to Egyptian tombs.

Perhaps that's not surprising. According to the author himself, cinnamon was Ray Bradbury’s favorite word; it conjured up memories of his grandmother’s pantry. 

Cinnamon wasn’t the only spice-related word Bradbury flavored his sentences with. Vanilla, spearmint, and nutmeg all appear at higher-than-normal rates in Bradbury's oeuvreHis grandmother must’ve had some pantry.

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J.K. Rowling: "pocketed it"

J.K. Rowling appears to be a bit more Slytherin than she would like to admit. Despite the author claiming it to be more fiction than fact, back in 2016 rumors surfaced of a feud between Rowling and Stephen Fry, the famed British comedian who narrated the audiobooks of her Harry Potter series.

After purportedly dismissing a then-obscure Rowling, Stephen Fry apparently set himself up for some revenge when it became clear he struggled with recording one phrase in particular: pocketed it. Even if this feud is fantasy, the phrase pocketed it—in which characters place certain items, mostly their wands, in their pockets—does pop up quite often in the Harry Potter books.

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J.R.R. Tolkien: "gold"

J.R.R. Tolkien, famed for his Lord of the Rings fantasy series, had some serious language skills. Every name and word in his works were carefully crafted from his linguistic and literary knowledge. It is no wonder, then, that an entire website dedicated to the analysis of the use of words in Tolkien’s works, Emil Johansson's The LOTR Projectlaunched in 2012.

Along with perhaps more obvious words like elves and dragons, gold was one generously sprinkled across all Tolkien’s major works. The Fellowship of the Ring takes the cake, where gold is used 144 times.

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Agatha Christie: "murder"

This should come as a surprise to no one. According to the International Crime Fiction Research Group, the word murder made it into the titles of 17 of Christie's 66 works—just the titles alone. What's surprising is that it was only 17 times!

The runners-up were death and mystery, which leaves this case closed.

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Stephen King: female characters

Stephen King is best known as the dark genius behind demonic clowns, prom nights gone wrong, and all things Maine. What many may not have realized is his proclivity for female main characters and titles.

One avid fan read each of the 169 works Stephen King published under the name Stephen King and crunched these stats: 13 percent of his novels are named after women and 26 percent have women stationed as the main characters. 

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George R.R. Martin: "black as pitch"

In his statistical analysis of cinnamon words, Ben Blatt noted how often authors used clichés (e.g., strong as an ox), even though they are supposed to steer clear of them like potholes.

George R.R. Martinauthor of the Song of Ice and Fire series popularly known as Game of Thrones, after the title of the first novelwas guilty. The culprit? Black as pitch, a frequent phrase in his epic. Not a surprise, judging how Martin treats most of his characters.

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James Patterson: "believe it or not"

Another cliché-happy author based on Blatt’s analysis? Thriller novelist James Patterson.

We might crown Patterson the King of Clichés, as he averages about 160 of them per 100,000 words. Believe it or not is most common, making it, believe it or not, the cliché of clichés.

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Neil Gaiman: "ineffable"

When choosing a word to associate with Neil Gaiman, one would be tempted to pick versatile. The author has produced a wide range of works, ranging from children’s novels to fantasy comics to episodes of Doctor Who. When asked what his favorite word was, the author himself offered up ineffable.

In fact, he liked the word so much, he and fellow fantasy author Terry Pratchett co-wrote a whole book, Good Omens, apparently inspired by the concept of ineffable. It's about the birth of the son of Satan, which is something only Pratchett and Gaiman could put into words.  

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Jane Austen: "civility"

With all her sense and sensibility, it’s no surprise that one of Jane Austen’s cinnamon words is civility. How perfect, given how Austen wrote about—and took apart—the means and manners of late 18th-century British gentry.

Austen's other two cinnamon words, according to Blatt, are fancying and imprudence. Consider our pearls not-clutched in the slightest.  

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Vladimir Nabokov: "mauve"

Just as Blatt's book title promises, Russian author Vladimir Nabokov’s cinnamon word was indeed mauve. The Lolita author used the word 44 times more often than expected. 

Blatt observes, though, that Nabokov had synesthesia, "a condition where one's sense experiences are mixed." For Nabokov, words and sounds made him see colors.

Apparently ... he heard a lot of pale purple—not to be confused with Pale Fire.

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