Jonathan Franzen’s 50 Favorite Words
See which words the 'Purity' writer uses most
Published September 8, 2015

Jonathan Franzen’s fifth novel, Purity, which published last week, came as no surprise to fans of the author’s elephantine narratives. “Magisterial sweep is now just what Franzen does,”Radhika Jones wrote in TIME’s review.

Close readers might also notice that Franzen goes back and back to the well of a few dozen signature words. His novels are peppered with motels, carpeting, dorm rooms, and the color beige–all seasoned with regular volleys of profanity.

But don’t take our word for it. To determine Franzen’s 50 favorite words, TIME Labs compared the frequency of each word in Franzen’s five novels to their frequency across all English language novels, using data that Google provides. (The exciting methodology is at the bottom.)

RANK WORD USES NOVELS PER FRANZEN NOVEL PER ALL NOVELS
1 f–k 147 5 29.4 2.3
2 so-called 20 5 4.0 0.00015
3 french 68 5 13.6 0.23
4 f–king 111 5 22.2 2.5
5 long-term 13 4 3.3 0.00013
6 d–k 54 5 10.8 0.63
7 s–t 118 5 23.6 3.8
8 f–ked 45 4 11.3 0.67
9 a–hole 42 5 8.4 0.53
10 tad 39 3 13.0 0.26
11 carpeting 38 4 9.5 0.27
12 bulls–t 46 4 11.5 0.65
13 underpants 28 5 5.6 0.17
14 marxist 14 5 2.8 0.023
15 boyfriend 110 5 22.0 2.4
16 merger 65 4 16.3 3
17 sofa 132 5 26.4 2.8
18 motel 43 5 8.6 0.94
19 whoa 19 3 6.3 0.077
20 knapsack 27 3 9.0 0.31
21 dorm 32 5 6.4 0.56
22 midwestern 23 4 5.8 0.2
23 goddamned 19 4 4.8 0.2
24 pajamas 35 5 7.0 0.49
25 cruiser 28 4 7.0 0.8
26 stadium 42 3 14.0 1.3
27 blah 21 5 4.2 0.38
28 niceness 15 5 3.0 0.061
29 nightstand 23 5 4.6 0.26
30 grownup 17 4 4.3 0.08
31 carton 28 4 7.0 0.48
32 driveway 59 5 11.8 1.8
33 daddy 43 4 10.8 1.3
34 dude 25 5 5.0 0.57
35 wow 27 4 6.8 0.34
36 wolf 93 4 23.3 2.7
37 bunny 20 3 6.7 0.25
38 beige 28 5 5.6 0.44
39 Coke 24 5 4.8 0.84
40 girlfriend 95 4 23.8 2.6
41 dialed 27 5 5.4 0.67
42 smelled 81 5 16.2 1.9
43 raincoat 18 4 4.5 0.21
44 martini 16 3 5.3 0.24
45 gonna 50 5 10.0 3.7
46 cartons 20 5 4.0 0.31
47 bedspread 16 4 4.0 0.16
48 two-dimensional 4 3 1.3 0.0001
49 turds 10 3 3.3 0.035
50 jeans 74 5 14.8 2.7

Methodology
Words are ranked by a score known as “term frequency-inverse document frequency,” a well-established method of determining which words in a text are particularly important.

Our algorithm considered only lowercase words that appear in at least three of Franzen’s five novels. The only alteration to the original texts that TIME made was to convert uppercase words at the beginning of sentences to lowercase if they appeared elsewhere in the novels as a lowercase word. (This method, while imperfect, tends to sort out proper nouns while not undercounting words that commonly start sentences.)

For a baseline comparison, we used Google’s English Fiction files, using the 2007 levels of each word that Franzen uses.