I suppose it was inevitable that the 2018 post-apocalyptic horror film A Quiet Place, which was shot on a relatively small budget and subsequently made a boatload of money, would require a sequel. And so it has come to pass that A Quiet Place Part II will open in theaters in March. (Tiny spoiler: There’s more out there than the noise-hating creatures.)
As I watched the trailer I started thinking about (a) the unimaginativeness of the title, which suggests an unimaginative sequel; and (b) how popular the word place is in movie and television titles. And it isn’t just a recent fad: the trend goes back decades.
What are the odds? Whether through coincidence or cosmic convergence, two new novels with nearly identical titles—The Revisioners and The Revisionaries—are being published within a single 30-day period this autumn.
I haven’t yet read either of the books, but I am interested in title trends (read my Medium story about book titles here), and this one is especially intriguing. Sexton’s book is about women, race, and the stories told in families; Moxon’s is about a street preacher, a mental patient, and a religious cult. (And yes, I noted the other coincidence: both authors have an X in their surnames.) What is it, I wonder, about revision that appeals so strongly right now to two writers with such different interests and approaches? And not just those two writers: I see revisionist and revisionary cropping up regularly in popular culture.
The wildfires have barely been extinguished here in California, but it’s already word-of-the-year season across the pond, where three prominent dictionaries chose words or phrases with a common theme: climate change, or preventing it. Cambridge Dictionary went first, with upcycling: “the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material.” Collins Dictionary chose climate strike: “a protest demanding action on climate change.” And Oxford Dictionaries picked climate emergency from an all-environmental shortlist that included “climate action,” “climate denial,” “eco-anxiety,” “extinction” and “flight shame.”
Let the record show that lexicographer Jane Solomon, recently of Dictionary.com, spotted the trend back in September.
Maybe you’ve accepted the NaNoWriMo challenge: Write 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. Maybe you’re working on an essay collection, a biography, or a book-length work of journalism.
Whatever your project, at some point you’ll need a title. Selecting the right one can seem daunting until you understand an important truth: You don’t need to be creative or even original. You need to follow a formula with proven success.
In my latest essay for Medium, “Book Titles Made Easy(ish),” I present ten popular formulas for book titles, from the punchy single word (Blink, Grunt, Cod) to the inquisitive journalistic style (Where the Crawdads Sing, Why We Dream, When You Are Engulfed in Flames). I also provide exercises for experimenting with each formula.
I’ve been watching The Boys on Amazon Prime, and along with enjoying the clever conceit (superheroes as corrupt bad guys controlled by an evil mega-corporation) and the dash of Brit slang and swearing (shufti, dekko, chuffed, lots of casual cunts), I’ve been thinking about the title. The show is based on a graphic-novel series that I’ve never read, and maybe “boys” is more overtly explained there, but on the show we’re left to infer that The Boys are the good-guy squad, even though one of their number is a young woman.
They aren’t the only capital-B Boys trending in popular-culture titles right now. Although less robust than the ongoing Girl/Girls title phenomenon (see my posts from 2015 and from 2018), “Boy/Boys” is still a trendlet worth noting.
The first word I remember not recognizing, when I began reading on my own at about age 5, was mere. I no longer remember the title of the book, but I remember that the phrase that gave me pause was a mere mouse. I wasn’t yet in the habit of looking up words in dictionaries, so I asked my mother what it meant. She said “small,” which shut me up for the time being even though, I would later learn, it wasn’t quite right.
It’s a curious word, mere. It is not, to get this out of the way, related to motherly French mère. The OED lists multiple English definitions, including “a lake or pond” (often seen in place names such as Windermere or Woodmere) and “a siren or mermaid” (truncated from mermin, in which mer comes not from Latinate sources meaning “sea” but from Old English menon, meaning “female servant”). There’s a transitive verb to mere, meaning “to mark out” (from Old English mǣre, a boundary or border). And there are multiple adjective senses. One, whose meaning is now obsolete, meant “renowned, famous, illustrious, brilliant”; its cognates show up as parts of many European personal names, including Old High German Sigimār and Russian Vladimir. At one time mere also meant “pure,” “undiluted,” “perfect,” or “downright.”
The mere in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952) is to be interpreted as “absolute” or “pure,” according to scholars who know more about this subject than I pretend to. Lewis borrowed “mere Christianity” from a 17th-century Puritan, Richard Baxter.
The news that Tiny Pretty Things, the 2016 YA novel about ballet students by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, is being made into a 10-episode Netflix series sent me into a free-association reverie.
“Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars.” – Amazon. The sequel (2017) is titled Shiny Broken Pieces.
As others correctly pointed out, fellow here means “a person receiving a fellowship”—a financial grant. This is just one of many historical senses of fellowship; others include “companionship,” “alliance,” “spiritual communication,” “the crew of a vessel,” “trade guild,” and “sexual intercourse.”
In the title of the first volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, fellowship signifies a “company” or “association.”
It’s true that “man, male person” is one of the senses of fellow, but it’s not the original one. The OED includes that sense only after many others, including “partner, companion,” “accomplice,” “comrade,” “a member of a company, college, or society,” and “something that resembles another specified thing.” In Old English, as in the Scandinavian languages from which it derives, fellow meant a companion of either sex; its sources are fé (property, money; related to modern fee) and lag (that which is laid down, an arrangement; related to law). The “man” sense of fellow didn’t come along until Middle English, in the late 14th century. The casual pronunciation feller was first recorded around 1825; fellah – attested from 1864 – was eventually shortened to fella.