This Computer Program Turns Famous Writers Into Anonymous...

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LANGUAGE JULY 31, 2013

This Computer Program Turns Famous Writers Into Anonymous Hacks

Much attention has lately been given to stylometry, or the scientific study of literary style, which helped unmask J.K. Rowling as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled Patrick Juola, who has studied stylometry for decades and who used statistical analysis of Rowling’s prose to confirm that she was the woman behind Robert Galbraith. Briefly mentioned in the piece was a tool called Anonymouth, currently in development at Drexel University, that strips text of stylistic markers. The software works by flagging certain linguistic tics for removal—recurring words, repeated punctuation, the particular rhythm of sentences.

The tool is still a work in progress, but I contacted the team behind it (created by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Rachel Greenstadt, Ph.D. student Andrew W.E. McDonald, and undergrad software engineering major Marc Barrowclift) and asked if they'd anonymize a few passages from famous works of literature. Among the tics they identified: Fitzgerald’s complicated metaphors make it tough to anonymize him. There are so many similarities between the language of Dreams From My Father and the Book of Genesis that the Bible reads in parts like it was written by Obama. Future whistleblowers take note: Anonymouth might be the key to keeping your identity securely under wraps.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Anonymous: The Great Gatsby

And, as I sat there, contemplating this unknown state, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first spotted the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock... he’d come a long way to this blue lawn—his dream must have seemed so close that he almost had to realize it. Alas, he didn’t know that it wasn’t possible any more, that it had escaped him somewhere down the line, that it been lost in a dark abyss. Gatsby believed in the green light—the orgasmic future that year after year dwindles away right before our eyes. It eluded us then, but, all is not lost. Tomorrow, we will run faster, and stretch our arms and legs farther... and so we’ll continue.

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it.

Anonymous: Anna Karenina

Happy families are all alike. And, every family that isn’t happy, is unhappy in its own way. The Oblonskys’ house was in turmoil. The wife/mother discovered her husband had been having a passionate relationship with a French girl—who used to be a governess in their family. She announced to her husband that she couldn’t continue living with him. This unpleasant situation existed for three days—and not only were the husband and wife themselves aware of the tension of the situation, but the entire family/household was troubled by the situation.

Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. 

Anonymous: A Tale of Two Cities

It was both a great time, and a poor time; the age of wisdom and of foolishness; the epoch of belief and of incredulity; the season of Light, and the season of Darkness; the spring of hope and the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, and Hell. The period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, for the sake of comparison only. There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, in England—and there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, in France. 

George Eliot: Middlemarch

She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. Nevertheless, Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister’s, and had a shade of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke’s plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably “good:” if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers—anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster’s daughter.

Anonymous: Middlemarch

Other people spoke of her cleverness. They did, however, note that her sister, Celia, appeared to have more common sense. Celia also wore mostly plain clothes, although with slightly greater embellishment. So small was the difference that only a few could detect a hint of flirtation in them. Price certainly had something to do with it, for the ladies were well situated in society. For example, if you were to look back at previous generations, you would find nobody of lower stature than an admiral or priest (you would even find a Puritan who had elevated from serving Cromwell to having as few political difficulties as a respected head of a family estate). For young women who had grown up in a peaceful country house and who had regularly attended a tiny chapel in the village, wearing rather “showy” clothes seemed like a desire of only floozy women.

David Foster Wallace: Consider the Lobster

Experiments have shown that they can detect changes of only a degree or two in water temperature; one reason for their complex migratory cycles (which can often cover 100-plus miles a year) is to pursue the temperatures they like best. And, as mentioned, they’re bottom-dwellers and do not like bright light: If a tank of food lobsters is out in the sunlight or a store’s fluorescence, the lobsters will always congregate in whatever part is darkest. Fairly solitary in the ocean, they also clearly dislike the crowding that’s part of their captivity in tanks, since (as also mentioned) one reason why lobsters’ claws are banded on capture is to keep them from attacking one another under the stress of close-quarter storage.

Anonymous: Consider the Lobster

Various tests prove that they notice even the smallest temperature change in water (even as small as degree or two). This is one reason for their intricate migration cycles (which are known to exceed hundred miles per year) as they wish to find the temperatures they enjoy best. Also, seeing as they’re bottom-dwellers, they do not like bright light. For example, if a tank of food lobsters is left out in the sunlight or is exposed to bright lights in a store, the lobsters will seek out the darkest part of the tank. Lobsters, being moderately hermit-like creatures, are clearly uncomfortable with the crowding that comes with tanks. They are so much so that they are known to attack each other due to stress from being so clumped together in tanks. This is actually one of the reasons lobsters’ claws are clamped shut upon capture.

The King James Bible: Genesis

1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the

morning were the first day.

1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters

from the waters.

1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from

the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

1:8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Anonymous: Genesis

1:1 To start, God created Heaven and earth.

1:2 Earth wasn’t yet formed, and darkness hung over it. God’s spirit moved over the surface’s waters.

1:3 God then commanded light, and light appeared.

1:4 He said light’s good, and God divided light from darkness.

1:5 God called light “Day”, darkness “Night”, and evening and morning were the first day.

1:6 He then said for waters to divide to create a firmament.

1:7 God then created a firmament, and divided waters which were it from waters which were above it: and it happened.

1:8 God named it Heaven. So passed the second day.

 

Laura Bennett is a staff writer at The New Republic. Follow her @lbennett.

 

 

 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Anonymouth.

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