Fun with “A Concordance to the Works of Jane Austen,” Peter L. DeRose and S. W. McGuire, compilers. 3 vols. (NY: Garland, 1982)

While cataloging this donation from the estate of JASNA founder J. David Grey, I noticed that in addition to the typical concordance’s listing, from A to Z, of every usage of every word in an author’s work or works in its phrase context, the third volume of this one ends with Jane’s entire vocabulary stacked in a usage frequency list.

The first words, articles, prepositions, and conjunctions, of course, are used tens of thousands of times as you would expect, but then usages drop off to hundreds of instances, become more varied by part of speech, and it gets interesting.

These are the first 43 most frequently used words in the works of Jane Austen, which when recited serially suggest the hidden music flowing through her prose:The To Of And A Her I In Was It She Not That Be You Had He For As With But His Have At Is All Very So On Him By Could My Been Which Would No Were They From This Any Me

Most common given name: Elizabeth (681), ahead of Elinor (621), Catherine (545), Marianne (476), Anne (440), and Jane (433).

Most common given man’s name: Sir Thomas (281). Most common last name: Crawford (490), followed by Darcy (372) and Knightly (296), though “Mr. Knightly” (266), counted separately, puts Emma’s beau out in front.

“Mother” and “Father” were used almost exactly as often (586 and 582).

An adjacent cluster, “conversation” (252), “manners” (251), and “reason” (251) are used almost exactly the same number of times, though nearby “talk” (250) might put verbal discourse ahead of its social rivals.

One high-frequency contiguous cluster seemed implicitly dramatic, if only suggestively so: “Mr. Darcy” (241) “walked” (241) “London” (240) “called” (239) “voice” (239) “sisters” (238) “Churchill” (237) “dare” (237) “returned” (236) “determined” (235) “already” (234) “impossible” (234) “near” (233) “power” (233) “head” (231) “marriage” (231) “ready” (231) “sorry” (231).

The frequency list ends with words used only once in Austen’s published oeuvre, forty-two columns of them at about 133 words per column, or approximately 5700 words that are, to use the Greek term, hapax legomenon in Austen.  Precise differences in type setting create some solitaires from near twins or triplets, such as “sympathise” and “sympathize,” but the majority are true singletons, including some possibly surprising or surprizing isolates like “authentic” and “authenticity,” “badly,” “bearable,” and “confidences,”  but perhaps understandably also “connubial” and “swimming.”  (“Celebrating their connubial bliss, Emma and Mr. Knightly went swimming”?  Unthinkable.)  They range from the odd compound coinage, “a-la-mortal,” (following some initial “A.”s) to “yeomanry” and “yeoman,” “yester morn,” “young-lady-performers,” “younger-brother-like,” “younker,” “youth-killing,” “youths,” and “zigzags” (excluding the letter “z” alone and some odd numbers).

Author: Professor Arnold Sanders, Emeritus Professor of English (2015) – Goucher College