Reiterating the calls on bs

I’m not sure if it’s possible for any writer online to have avoided seeing – much less giving in and trying – purported writing analyzer I Write Like. It’s everywhere. And the universal consensus is that it’s bunk. Margaret Atwood gave it a whirl, and it turns out she writes like Stephen King. I tried it three times and came up with three different results: 1) Dan Brown 2) Chuck Palahniuk 3) David Foster Wallace. (My reaction to number one was basically the same as the first commenter on this post.)

Either the programming tools they’re using are insufficient to perform the type of sophisticated analysis required, or their sample of baseline authors is too narrow, or both. There’s a professor on staff at the University who focuses on artificial intelligence, which he’s applied in a number of ways, including toward the understanding of a “write-print,” which is the idea of identifying people based on writing samples, sort of like a fingerprint. From what I understand, the program is a sort of uber-technical manifestation of that which E.B. White and William Strunk have been saying for decades:

With some writers, style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity, as surely as would his fingerprints.

…I thought too that somewhere Strunk and White had a line about identifying a writer’s distinctive style based on what s/he unconsciously does wrong, but now I can’t find it. So my little transition there didn’t work as well as planned. But! In my search, I found an amusing passage (on page 73 of my edition of Elements of Style) that doesn’t leave much doubt about how the gentleman would regard the proliferation of (most? all? this?) blogs:

The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. “Spontaneous me,” sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius.

The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.

As the kids say: Oh, snap. I’m almost shamed away from blogging. But E.B.! I have no illusions: what crosses my mind is NOT of general interest. Does that make it OK?

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One response to “Reiterating the calls on bs

  1. Yeah I heard about that website, and that the person that made it only had three works of a small selection of authors…

    He says that he is going to update it latter. maybe it will be more interesting.

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