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A Few Words About Some Words

by Sheila Williams

Well known as a terrific science fiction editor, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld is also a terrific person. Neil ran some editorial pieces about frequently used titles in his April 2015 issue. Because he set up Asimov’s online submission system, Neil has access to the titles of our submissions, too. He offered to run a search of popular titles for me. I was reminded of this when he revisited the subject in his August 2017 issue, so I decided to take him up on the offer.

Neil ran through a list of fifty thousand submissions to come up with our top ten most common titles:

1st (17) “First Contact”

2nd (16) “Home”

3rd (15) “Singularity”

4th (14) “The Box,” “The Machine”

5th (13)  “Evolution,” “The Wall”

6st (12) “Alone,” “Dust,” “Escape,” “The Visitor”

7th (10) “Ascension,” “Going Home,” “Reunion,” “Homecoming,” “Immortality,” “Legacy,” “Memories,” “The Choice,” “The Gift,” “The Interview”

8th (9) “Afterlife,” “Entangled,” “Flight,” “Genesis,” “Lost and Found,” “Skin Deep,” “The Bridge,” “Time,” “Touch”

9th (8) “A Stitch in Time,” “Adrift,” “Chimera,” “Inheritance,” “Invasion,” “Purgatory,” “Reflections,” “The Colony,” “The Last Man”

10th (7) “Aftermath,” “Awake,” “Chrysalis,” “Control,” “Curiosity, “Disconnected,” “Entanglement,” “Entropy,” “Food for Thought,” “Four Poems,” “Hope,” “Illumination,” “Message in a Bottle,” “Monster,” “Mother,” “Perspective,” “Progress,” “Rebirth,” “Red,” “Redemption,” “Resurrection,” “Solitude,” “Survival,” “The End,” “The Fall,” “The Garden,” “The Hunter,” “The Message, “The Other Side,” “The Watcher,” “Untitled,” “Visitation”

One immediate observation is that our titles may actually be pretty diverse. This list represents only 627 submissions, which means that the other 49,373 titles have been used less than seven times. Of course there can be variations on a name. When I looked up “Four Poems,” I discovered that there were actually fifteen submissions from poets who included these words as part of their titles when they overlooked our guideline request to submit each poem separately. There are also twenty-three submissions with some variation on “Untitled.” Some of these are from poets submitting multiple poems as well—as in “Three Untitled Haiku” or “Five Untitled Poems.”

Lest anyone wants to claim that “Untitled” should dethrone “First Contact,” I also found twenty-three variations on the latter title. On the other hand, I found fifty-nine variations on “Singularity” and (while it seems a contradiction in terms) three more titles that include “Singularities.” It’s important, though, to place a limit on what’s considered an acceptable variation. After all, over three hundred subs include the word “Home” in their titles. In addition to “Going Home,” some examples are “No Place Like Home” (6), “Coming Home” (4), “A New Home” (4) and “The Long Way Home” (4).

Neil provided us with a wordle based on word usage in titles. The size of the word indicates how often it’s been used as part of a title. “Home” is clearly not the largest word on the image. “Moon” and “Death” have both appeared in about three hundred titles. “Last” and “Man” show up in about seven hundred, and “Time” is the clear winner with over a thousand appearances.

It’s fun to pontificate about the meaning behind all of this. Why is “Girl” so much more popular than “Boy”? Why are “Black,” “Blue,” and “Red” used more often than “White” and “Green”? Why don’t “Pink,” “Purple,” and “Orange” show up at all? These probing questions will not be answered here. In the future, I hope to run an editorial about the most popular words that have been used in the titles of works that have been published in Asimov’s. It will be interesting to compare the two lists of words and titles. 



Copyright © 2017 Sheila William

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