Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/110

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102
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

cellent and entirely satisfactory manner in which the heavy task of counting was performed by the ladies who undertook it, Mrs. Richard Mitchell and Miss Amy C. Whitman, of Worcester, Massachusetts. Their intelligent interest in the problem itself, together with their excellent knowledge of the various authors under examination and familiarity with the literature of the Shakespearean period, contributed greatly to the easy accomplishment of the work. The operation of counting was greatly facilitated by the construction of a simple counting machine by which a registration of a word of any given number of letters was made by touching a button marked with that number. One of the counters, with book in hand, called off 'five,' 'two,' 'three,' etc., as rapidly as possible, counting the letters in each word carefully and taking the words in their consecutive order, the other registering, as called, by pressing the proper buttons. Practice enabled the counters to do the work with remarkable rapidity, so that, although they were occupied for several months, the total time required was really only about one-quarter of the original estimate. The work was very exhausting, however, and could not be kept up satisfactorily more than three to five hours each day. After some preliminary work the counting of Shakespeare was seriously begun, and the result from the start with the first group of a thousand words was a decided surprise. Two things appeared from the beginning: Shakespeare's vocabulary consisted of words whose average length was a trifle below four letters, less than that of any writer of English before studied; and his word of greatest frequency was the four-letter word, a thing never met with before. His preference for the four-letter word may be said, indeed, to constitute the striking characteristic of his composition. At first it was thought that it might be a general characteristic of the English of his time, but that was found to be not the case. Its appearance in the composition of one or two of his contemporaries will be considered presently. Altogether about 400,000 words of Shakespeare were counted and classified, including, in whole or in part, nearly all of his most famous plays. His 'characteristic curve' is most persistent, that based on the first 50,000 words differing very little from that of the whole count. Two groups have been formed by combining alternate small groups (single plays or parts of plays) in a purely mechanical way, so as to include as nearly as may be the same number of words in each. The curves corresponding to them are plotted in Fig. 4, where, however, the differences have been of necessity somewhat exaggerated in order to make them show at all. The practical identity of these curves must be regarded as convincing evidence of the soundness of the original assumption. Not all of the Shakespeare count was completed at one time; other authors were taken up, and it is worth noting that the counters declared their ability to recognize Shakespeare by the mere 'run of words' without