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I'm trying to find a short story about a writer who has his fiction analyzed by a computer and it tells him the main theme of his work is sludge (or grease or grime or etc.). He's surprised and upset by this. I don't think there was any conventional action, most of the story was back and forth between the writer and the computer operator, or the writer thinking about the results of the analysis, so there weren't other details to remember...

I'm less confident about these details, but:

  • I read the whole story online somewhere, on a normal (maybe academic?) web page
  • it was originally published in a collection of short stories about computers
  • the cover of the collection was a 90s clip art style illustration of a man getting on an airplane
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It's not a short story, but this sounds a lot like an incident from "Small World" by David Lodge. The novelist Ronald Frobisher has his books analysed by computer, and finds that his most used word is "grease":

"Grease, greasy, greased... My entire oeuvre seemed saturated in grease...

The next morning when I sat down at my desk and tried to get on with my novel, I couldn't. Every time I wanted an adjective, greasy sprang to mind... I've never been able to write fiction since."

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  • That's it, thank you! I probably read it on Language Log, here, which is why I had the academic association. itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000361.html – polm23 Mar 28 at 12:59
  • This is no longer Science Fiction. The Autocrit tool does exactly this and more. I am not a paid endorser of Autocrit. :P – John Thompson Mar 28 at 17:20
  • Seems like Mr. Lodge could have done with a bit of stylometric analysis himself … he’s got a paragraph there that clocks in at 515 words! – Tom Zych Mar 28 at 17:26
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    Some years ago, I tried to use some webpage where you can paste in a lengthy sample of your prose, and it gives you all sorts of statistical-based advice about what you're doing. In my case, it claimed I used too many adverbs. One of the words it flagged as an adverb was "housefly." I guess it assumed: "This is a word ending with -LY, therefore it must be an adverb!" I've never bothered to use that online resource again. – Lorendiac Mar 28 at 18:05
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    @Lorendiac have you never eaten your dinner housefly? :-) – Vicky Mar 28 at 18:24

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