“X” Doesn’t Mark the Spot

“X” Doesn’t Mark the Spot

Recently, I spent a delightful morning counting words in Pride and Prejudice. Why? You may ask: Regina, do you not have enough to do with your retirement years than to sit around counting how many times Jane Austen used the word “sex” in this novel? (That would be seven times, by the way.) The truth is I am a bit OCD about some things. (Okay, I’m a lot OCD at times, but not as afflicted as my friend Brooke who turns all the paperclips in the holder on her desk in the same direction. Yet, that is another story.) Counting and numbers actually are distracting. It exercises the other side of my brain, and on that particular day, I had hit a wall with my new novel. I had three possible scenarios for endings, and I could not make up my mind, which one would play out the best. Of course, choosing the ending affected the events I would choose early on in the storyline. My writing was at a stand still. (Yes, that is one of my glorious duties as the person who runs the contests on this site.) Therefore, I turned my attention to the post I had yet to write for my own blog.

Preparing to post the last in my three part series of “Do You Speak Jane Austen?”, I needed to find a word or two in Austen’s writings that began with the letter “X.” I was soon to find out that “X” as the beginning letter was quite elusive. I scanned Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park. No “X” words were to be found. However, that doesn’t mean that our Jane never used the letter. On the contrary, 158 different words containing the letter “X” are used within Pride and Prejudice alone.

The most commonly used word containing “x” was “next,” and I shall take great pleasure in telling my editor, who seems to frown on the word, that Jane Austen used “next” one and seventy times in Pride and Prejudice. Other “X” words that our Jane used repeatedly were “expected” (43); “expect” (35); “exactly” (30); “exceedingly” (27); “expressed” (25); “anxious” (25); “express” (to mean both “to state” and “the mail”) (24); “expression” (22); “fixed” (22); “except” (22); and “excellent” (20).

Jane was also quite fond of “expectation” (19); “anxiety” (18); “extraordinary” (17); “excuse” (used both as a noun and a verb) (16); “extremely” (14); “excessively” (11); “expressions” (11); “vexation” (10); and “excited” (10). Of course, there are the variations of each of these words:
“vexing” (1); “vex” (1); “vexed” (8); “vexatious” (2): “vexations” (1); “exceeding” (1); “exceeded” (2); “exceed” (2); “expectations” (7); “expecting” (8); “expects” (1); “expecting” (1); “excepting” (4); “fixing” (2); “fix” (3); “inexpressibly” (1); “expressing” (3); “inexpressible” (1); “expressly” (1); “expressed” (1); “expressively” (1); “anxiously” (1); “excessive” (4); “excess” (2); “excellency” (1) “unexpected” (8); “unexpectedly” (3); “excuses” (2); and “extreme” (4).

However, some of my favorite finds had nothing to do with Austen’s repeating of these common words. Instead, I enjoyed finding “Oxford” (1), “annexed” (1), “exigence” (1), “bandbox” (1), “beaux” (1), “proxy” (1), “expostulation” (1), “exercise” (6), “exertion” (9), and “foxhounds” (1). Another thing I noted (minus the deep scientific study I should have executed) is that Austen seems to use the number “six” quite often in her writing. In Pride and Prejudice, she used “six” ten times, “sixth” once, and “sixteen” seven times. I laughingly told myself it was because our dear Jane had to handwrite her stories (which you might recall is an act in my writing process) and “six” is much shorter to write than say “seven” or “eight.” That reasoning died away when I thought of the words “one,” “two,” and “ten.” Perhaps, “six” was Austen’s lucky number. After all, in Mandarin, “six” is good for business and can mean happiness. Did our Jane anticipate her literary success by using the number “six” often? Yes, it is used multiple times in Sense and Sensibility also. Or, mayhap, I am simply looking for a good story behind all this counting. My mathematical brain is now assuaged. (Did I ever tell you that I began college as a math major? Eventually, I switched to language arts, and the rest is history.) Hopefully, some of you are also both right and left brained and can understand my need to be whole brained in my daily life. If not, you will continue to see me as quite eccentric. [By the way, if one is looking for more delicious Jane Austen words, check out the Jane Austen Thesaurus (http://writelikeausten.com/).]

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in Jane Austen, language choices, word play and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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