James Hogg’s “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” & Word Frequencies

James Hogg manipulated not only the placement of words—but also word frequencies—throughout the original 1824 edition of his book, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

As the Afterword of this edition explains, Hogg also ingeniously used word frequencies to conceal meaning throughout the book. This brief video highlights some of the peculiar word frequencies in Hogg’s “Justified Sinner.”

And the ways that Hogg used word frequencies is ingenious: it ultimately conceals a notion about likeness and identity, and good and evil.

“Like is an ill mark”

Not to give it all away—and ruin the experience and interpretation for yourself—but it’s worth noting that Ancient greek philosophers were preoccupied with ideas about (numerical) identity. For example, how is it that 12 can be “equal” to three sets of four (3×4). And how could they be “equal” or the same, when in fact they are not. How can “twelve” be “equal” to 6+6, or 13-1, or 9+2—when they are in fact different sets of numbers?

And while matters of identity and likeness—such as the witting quote “Like is an ill mark” on page 102—are part of the narrative, yet matters of identity and likeness are also part of the composition of the original book as well.

Indeed, it seems Hogg used this notion as a principle in formulating word frequencies throughout the book. For example, their are plenty of bedeviling pairs of words of equal frequency.

Peculiar pairs of words with equal frequency…

Hogg’s use of verbs with equal frequency in the past and present tense

Here are just a handful of peculiar pairs of verbs with equal frequency in their respective past and present tenses:

be
is
used 484 times each

remain/remained
14 times each

draw
drew
9 times each

fly
flew
9 times each

betake
betook
5 times each

And there are other peculiar pairs of words and word frequencies throughout the book, as explained in the Afterword of this edition—the only edition that reproduces every word, on every line, and practically the same place as the 1824 original book.

There’s also a list of word frequency pairs that highlight other “sets” of peculiar word frequency schemes.

In sum, while there’s much to be deciphered, overall it seems Hogg’s manipulation of word frequencies adds a bedeviling dimension of significance regarding likeness and identity—to an already extraordinary novel.

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