I’ve been playing around with some of the Open Library book data, and made an interesting mistake along the way. I incorrectly constructed a regular expression, using a literal question mark instead of an escaped question mark, and ended up with a list of book titles which end in question marks. This was a happy accident, since the results are interesting, and often hilarious, book titles:
- Isn’t that Lewis Carroll?
- How Much Wine Will Fix My Broken Heart?
- You’re the Professor, What Next?
- What Counts as Mathematics?
- Too Many Babies?
- What do we know about Namibia’s competitiveness?
- Enfants bandits?
- Why Is That So Funny?
- Do our people believe what our preachers preach?
- Can we afford to waste municipal waste?
- Mission accomplished?
- IF YOU SAY MULTICULTURALISM IS THE WRONG ANSWER, THEN WHAT WAS THE QUESTION YOU ASKED? [Emphasis in the original.]
- Is the key to successful breastfeeding all in the mind?
- Why Grow Old?
- We need to talk, but first, do you like my shoes?
- But what if I don’t want to go to college?
- How come I feel so disconnected if this is such a user-friendly world?
- How does a czar eat potatoes?
- What Do Cats Do for Halloween?
- Did You Want To Talk To The Doctor In Charge Or The Nurse Who Knows What’s Going On?
- Forty men are going to form the largest poultry farm in Canada, will you be one of them?
- Is that lunch adequate?
- What Color Is My Internet?
- What’s Funny About Yorkshire?
- Could You Please, Please Stop Singing?
- Dinosaurs or dynamos?
- A concise answer to the inquiry, who or what are the Shakers?
- What’s With Modern Art?
- Le Moyen Age pour quoi faire?
- Elvis, is that you?
- Mama amasa la masa?
- How Big Is Baby?
- Where are the footnotes?
- Your phone bill, fact or fiction?
- What Is Western about the West?
- I’m a Scientist Scary Isn’t It?
- What’s so funny about computers?
I liked the first one, with the “what next?” tag question, so I looked for titles that end with that pattern, and found some 134 such titles, including these good ones:
- Drama - what next?
- Northern Ireland, What Next?
- Helsinki, what next?
- After age 16 - what next?
The last one, too, has an interesting form, so I searched for books beginning with “What’s so funny about.” There were 21, mostly about religion:
- What’s so funny about faith?
- What’s So Funny about God?
- What’s So Funny about Being Catholic?
- What’s so funny about microbiology?
Since there are several book titles which are addressed to a person, like “Elvis, is that you?” and “Jesus, is your Daddy mean?”, I tried searching for titles starting with “Jesus,” and there are 31. Here are a few:
- Jesus, what’s for lunch?
- Jesus, Were You Little?
- Jesus, where are you taking us?
- Jesus, Who Needs Him?
The books that begin with “Elivis,” and end with a question mark, are fewer:
- Elvis, is that you?
- Elvis, what happened?
Books that begin with “how come” mostly sound like children’s books. (“How come” feels like children’s language to me, for some reason. There are some interesting explanations on the English Stackexchange, and Garner says to “avoid it in serious writing,” understandably.)
- How Come It’s Windy?
- How come you’re not married?
- How come holding hands feels so good?
- How come elephants?
- How come they always had the battles in national parks?
- How come I’ve never seen a can of broccoli?
This makes for a funny tone in books that sound sound like they’re written for adults:
- How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints Are on the Knife?
- How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not?
There are unfortunately no other books beginning “How Much Wine Will Fix…”
If you want to replicate this experiment, just grab the “works” dump
from the Open Library
data dumps site, and then run
zgrep -io '"title": "Jesus, .*?"' ol_dump_works_latest.txt.gz