Word Clouds and Sherlock: Both Masters of Decoding

Word Cloud

A picture is worth a thousand words, so just imagine how much can be said from a word cloud. After analyzing this word cloud of the Sherlock Holmes’s story, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, produced by voyant-tools.org, it is clear that a whole story can be told from just a few aesthetically placed words.

With word clouds the bigger the word, the more times the particular word appeared in the context. Since some of the larger words in this word cloud are “goose” (used 28 times) “geese” (used 17 times) and “bird” (used 18 times) it is safe to assume that this story has much to do with a fowl. “Stone” (used 21 times)  and “little” (used 24 times) to imply a precious tiny gem of some sort most likely plays a major role in this story. Other words that stand out are “Christmas” (used 9 times) and “good” (used 11 times) to  suggest this is a heart-warming time of year.

And as a person who has actually read this story, I can state that this is exact plot of the short story: it is around Christmas time and a man is trying to track down a bird that has a unique stone in it. This word cloud is awesome because it implies the main points and actual content of the story; thus readers can understand the main idea of the story before reading it. And who knows? Maybe the word cloud will entice a person to read the story when they may not have otherwise.

What makes this word cloud so successful is the placement of the words. The font is easy to read, and the different colors make it easy to differentiate the different words. Since the background color is white readers are drawn to look at the bold and colored words. Also, most of the words in this word cloud are unique to the story (No pronouns, conjunctions, etc.), so relevant information about The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is easily conveyed in just a few key words.

This modern use of digital humanities may just put spark notes out of business. If this much can be told from a simple online engine that picks out the most commonly used words, what else can digital humanities teach us?

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