Here’s my most recent bit on “bit” — probably the word I’ve written the most about over the years. You can follow the link and go backwards through all the posts, but the basic deal is that British people commonly use “bits” where American would traditionally use “parts” — as in the good bits, the best bits, fiddly bits, lady bits and so on.
I’m inspired to write again because of a 1976 quote by the American science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, originally published in the Times Literary Supplement and posted on Facebook by Benjamin Friedman:
[H.P.] Lovecraft was an exceptionally, almost Impeccably, bad writer. He was not even originally bad. He Imitated the worst bits of Poe quite accurately, but his efforts to catch [Lord] Dunsany’s sonorous rhythms show an ear of solid tin. Derivative, inept, and callow, his tales can satisfy only those who believe that a capital letter, some words, and a full stop make a sentence.
I was immediately suspicious that Le Guin would have written “worst bits” (or, for that matter, “full stop” rather than “period”). And indeed, Ngram Viewer shows 1976 to be pretty much the nadir of American “worst bits”:
I commented about this on Facebook and Friedman replied: “It’s quite possible that her TLS editor amended the piece to accord with British usage. That certainly happened to me more than once back when I used to occasionally write proper reviews for them. The revisions would part of the back-and-forth as the editor and I arrived at a final draft, so if that was the case with Le Guin, she would have agreed to them.”
We’ll probably never know the truth. But my bet is on editorial suggestion.
2 thoughts on “Did Le Guin write “worst bits”?”
Is this an example of the British “bit”? From Late night with Seth Meyers on 18th May (s9-102). About seven and a half minutes into “a closer look”, Seth tries to explain the previous joke and says “sometimes you get so far into a bit …”.
No–“bit” has long been a term American comics use for a joke or routine.