Fun with Phrases: "based on the real-life story"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Mar 8 15:55:03 UTC 2013

On Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 9:56 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> Jonathan Lighter wrote
>> 1927 Walter Duranty in _N. Y. Times_ (Apr. 10) E9: "The Mullah's Third
>> Wife" based on the real life story of a Tartar girl in a small town
>> of the autonomous Tartar Republic on the upper Volga, where Miss Squire
>> spent fourteen months.
>> 1934 _Syracuse Herald_  (Sept. 9)  "Sutter's Gold" is based on the real
>> life story of Capt. John A. Sutter, a Swiss immigrant who came to
>> California in 1838.
>> The phrase becomes common in NewspArch papers in 1936 (with and without
>> hyphen) - but not in the N.Y. Times till the mid-1960s. (Bosley Crowther
>> used it once in 1945).
> Here is "real life story" versus "true life story" in the Ngram
> viewer. Will one form dominate?

Don't forget that hyphens are tokenized on the Ngram Viewer. So the
form that has come to dominate is "real-life story":


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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