“X” Does Not Always 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 this particular day, I had hit a wall with my new novel. I had three possible scenarios for an ending, and I could not make up my mind, which one would play out the best. Needless to say, choosing the ending affected the events I would include early on in the storyline. My writing was at a stand still. After seven years of cranking out novels, I have learned that I cannot force the story line. I must simply wait it out. Eventually, I will have that “aha” moment where what was so “obvious” reveals itself. (Usually in the form of a 4 A.M. wake-up call.) Therefore, I turned my attention to the post I had yet to write for my own blog.

One of the things I discovered some time ago, especially when I worked on my “Do You Speak Jane Austen?” series was that there are no words that begin with “x” in Austen’s novels. I took that as a personal challenge and added “x” words to my Christmas at Pemberley when the house guests were playing a parlor game called “I have a basket.”

“There is no word for ‘X'” Bingley protested. 

Edward corrected, “There is a xebec.”

Southland explained to a perplexed-looking Bingley, “A small, three-masted Mediterranean vessel.”

From where he sat, Darcy added “Xylem, Bingley. It’s a woody plant.”

Xiphi. A sword,” Elizabeth added. “It is one of my favorite Greek roots.

Xyster,” Mr. Bennet placed another word into play. 

“One could always use Xanthippe,” Georgiana said softly. 

Bingley laughed lightly. “Point well taken, everyone. I should not play word games with those who devour books.” 

 I wanted to find a word or two in Austen’s writings that began with the letter “X.” I was soon to discover 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.9babf977a786cb67c723e8bb89b13a46

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”71 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).

pp_ball

“vexation”

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).

six1

signing the number “6”

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. MTE1ODA0OTcxNTQ2ODcxMzA5

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 book excerpts, British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, word choices, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to “X” Does Not Always Mark the Spot

  1. dianabirchall says:

    And Captain Wentworth kept talking about things that happened “in the year six”!

    • Thanks for the reminder, Diana. He was not married in the year “six.”

      • dianabirchall says:

        No, “the year six” was the year he and Anne were originally engaged. The quotation is: “the year of their engagement could not but be named by him, in the little narratives or descriptions which conversation called forth. His profession qualified him, his disposition led him to talk; and ‘That was in the year six’, ‘That happened before I went to sea, in the year six,’ occurred in the course of the first evening they spent together…”
        A fascinating study, Regina!

      • That is what I meant. Wentworth planned to marry Anne in the year “Six.” His sister accuses him of not wishing women aboard ship.
        “But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”

        “Ah! my dear,” said the Admiral, “when he has got a wife, he will sing a different tune. When he is married, if we have the good luck to live to another war, we shall see him do as you and I, and a great many others have done. We shall have him very thankful to any body that will bring him his wife.”

        “Ay, that we shall.”

        “Now I have done,” cried Captain Wentworth. “When once married people begin to attack me with — ‘Oh! you will think very differently when you are married’ I can only say, ‘No, I shall not;’ and then they say again, ‘Yes, you will,’ and there is an end of it.”

      • dianabirchall says:

        Thank you, Regina, I will be looking for mentions of “six.” Did you know Ellen Moody has a convincing theory that key things happen in Jane Austen on Tuesdays?

      • I was not aware. I’ve been out of the loop of reading anything beyond what is absolutely necessary. (Health problems). I read the piece on Pemberley.com some time ago on Sir William Mountague. Where might I find this?

      • dianabirchall says:

        Here is the link. http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/tuesdays.html
        I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having healh issues, and I wish you all the best.

      • Thanks for sharing the post. I will be 69 in September. Life catches up with each of us eventually.

      • dianabirchall says:

        I just turned 70, retired last year, and deeply appreciate every day. Take care.

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