Thursday, September 21, 2006

Father, if thou be willing, remove this sippy cup from me

This SIP thing is probably old news to all you adept cybernauts, but – hey by the way, ‘cybernaut’ is by a weird coincidence identical to a very, very old word; kybernitis was the Greek word for a ship’s captain. “kyber” or “cyber” meant to steer, and so… oh dear. I’ll start again.

SIPs or Statistically Improbable Phrases are apparently what Amazon calls strange combinations of words which it finds after number crunching a book. I call it just about the stupidest idea I have ever heard of, and I hope the idiots who wasted their time and Amazon’s money programming this function have been appropriately punished. But I thought I would investigate the thing nevertheless.

To my surprise some of the results did seem to sort of reflect the spirit of their parent books, in an odd way. So here are some of the glorious, unforgettable phrases which make these great works of literature tower so loftily above the clotted, fetid detritus of normal human output. To add to the challenge I will try to limit myself to one epitomizing SIP per book, all from Amazon’s normal listings.

The Sound and the Fury: dis mawnin

Of Mice and Men: stable buck

Ulysses: seaside girls

Kafka’s Collected Stories: felt gag

Bleak House: spontaneous combustion (?)

Jurassic Park: soft hooting cry

Lord Jim: honourable sir

Shogun: fresh kimono

Infinite Jest: feral hamsters

Gravity’s Rainbow: pig mask

And, of course, the entire text of Finnegans Wake.

So there you have it. That is why those guys get the big bucks. Their unique ability to paint their literary canvases with evocative phrases such as “soft hooting cry” and “pig mask”. Actually I really like pig mask. Somehow it sums it all up for me.


Jinna said...

You just hit a pet peeve of mine -- I hate the SIPs. Here's why: I go to order an Agatha Christie mystery. As I am scrolling down to see the reviews, I pass the SIPs, which read "arsenic poisoning," "death by arsenic," and other phrases which COMPLETELY GIVE AWAY the mystery!

Whew, feels good to get that off my chest. :)

albtraum said...

Yeah that must be really annoying... I know these weird new features have been around for a couple years but for some reason I hadn't really registered that they exist until yesterday. Kim used to order books from every once in a while in Germany, but I'm really out of the loop.

Jinna said...

Now that I've vented, I can enjoy the SIPs you quoted. They are rather amusing.

Reminds me of the week I watched about 10 Ingmar Bergman movies. By the end of the week I had learned one Swedish phrase: dead baby. (Sounds like "deutt bonn.")

albtraum said...

Well there's a nice example of subtitle pedagogy, one of my favorite topics. I'd guess (with my nonexistent expertise in swedish) that the swedish was something like "dod barn", which is more or less what you said.

I am currently taking an intensive course of "live in malaysia for a year and a half and watch thousands of English TV shows with malaysian subtitles and see if anything accidentally seeps into your tiny pea brain"

It seems to be working, although very slowly. I'd say I'm an Intermediate level Malaysian TV Subtitle Reader.

Anonymous said...


I once tried to refresh my French by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer dubbed in French with English subtitles. The only French I learned, "C'est un piage!" = "It's a trap!"