One of the things I love about language is its staggering combinatorial possibilities. I revel in a Google game – picking a seemingly ordinary phrase and doing a search to see how many times it has appeared in the vast body of language indexed by the search engine. It is amazing how relatively few times even the most compact phrases have appeared.
It was with that in mind that I read Emily Green’s piece today in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the similarities between her epic Las Vegas Sun series Quenching Las Vegas’ Thirst and the discussion of Vegas water in Alex Prud’homme’s The Ripple Effect. Emily quotes two passages, first hers and then Prud’homme’s.
Las Vegas lies at the intersection of three deserts. To the west is the Mojave, to the south the Sonoran, and to the north the Great Basin.
Las Vegas sits at the intersection of three deserts. To the south is the Sonoran, to the west is the Mojave, and to the north lies the Great Basin.
Savor that simple four-word phrase: “intersection of three deserts”. In the entire corpus indexed by Google, that phrase appears to have been written only three times – once by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to describe three Australian deserts, once in 2008 by Emily Green to describe Las Vegas, and once by Alex Prud’homme in his new book – also to describe Las Vegas.
Sadly for Emily, Prud’homme’s book is the first Google hit.