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20 Bands Named After Classic Literature

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isaac brock of modest mouse, via getty images

Sometimes musicians reach for inspiration from their bookshelves. Here are 20 bands named after classic literature.

1. Modest Mouse

Issaquah, Washington's Modest Mouse named their band after a passage from the novel The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf. “I chose the name when I was fifteen," explains lead singer Isaac Brock. "I wanted something that was completely ambiguous, but it’s really candyesque sounding. But it meant something to me. And I could identify with that.”

"I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises."

2. Veruca Salt

Alternative rock band Veruca Salt is named after the spoiled rich girl who wins one of the Golden Tickets from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

3. My Chemical Romance

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Bassist Mikey Way was working at a Barnes & Noble when he was taken with the title Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance from Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh. His older brother and co-founder Gerard Way suggested the word "My" at the beginning of the band name.

4. Titus Andronicus

The New Jersey punk band named themselves after the William Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus, one of the playwright's most bloody and violent.

"I have found that when a person wants to be in a band, he or she spends a lot of time accumulating a mental file of words or phrases that would be cool band names. "'Titus Andronicus' was, to my mind, the best one that I’d come across," vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles explained to Exclaim.ca. "I wanted our band to straddle that line between the more cerebral, thoughtful elements of the human condition and the part of us that just wants to see blood and brutality."

5. The Doors

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The Doors took their band name from Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, which was itself taken from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell from English poet William Blake:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”

6. Rainer Maria

Co-founders Caithlin De Marrais and Kyle Fischer named their indie rock band after Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The pair first met at a writing workshop in Madison, Wisconsin.

7. Steppenwolf

The band's original name was The Sparrow, but founder John Kay renamed it Steppenwolf based on a suggestion from record producer Gabriel Mekler, who had just finished reading Hermann Hesse’s novel.

8. Of Mice & Men

California-based Metalcore band Of Mice & Men got their name from John Steinbeck's famous work.

“The book Of Mice and Men says, ‘the well laid plans of mice and men often falter,’” frontman Austin Carlile explained. “You make plans, and they get screwed up. [Bassist Jaxin Hall] and I both had plans for life, and they both got screwed up, so now we’re making the most of what we can.”

9. Joy Division

Joy Division with Sam Riley

Originally, the name of the band was Warsaw, but they changed it to Joy Division so people wouldn't confuse them with another punk band from London called Warsaw Pakt. The name Joy Division comes from a novella entitled House of Dolls from a Jewish writer named Yehiel Feiner, who wrote under the pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633, which was his number in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The novella describes Jewish Joy Divisions as a group of women being used as sex slaves for Nazi soldiers and officers during World War II.

10. Clem Snide

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Singer/songwriter Eef Barzelay named his alt-country band Clem Snide after a character who frequently appears in the novels of William S. Burroughs, including Naked Lunch, Exterminator!, and The Ticket That Exploded.

11. As I Lay Dying

The San Diego-based metalcore band got their name from William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying. While lead singer Tim Lambesis liked the name of the book, he believes that its themes and story don't reflect the band's identity.

"We got the idea from the name. I wouldn’t say that there is a correlation in the meaning of the book and the meaning of the band. We stole the name from there," Lambesis explained to Metal Underground. "It’s kind of depressing but I guess it’s well-written. It’s not my style of novel."

12. Belle & Sebastian

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Lead singer and founder Stuart Murdoch named his indie pop band after a French children's book called Belle et Sébastien by Cécile Aubry. It was adapted into a TV series during the '70s and was made into a Japanese anime series in the '80s.

13. Silverchair

Originally, the Australian alternative band was called Innocent Criminals, but the trio was later renamed Silverchair after the C.S. Lewis novel The Silver Chair when they signed with Sony Music in 1994. The Silver Chair is the fourth novel in "The Chronicles of Narnia" book series.

14. Josef K

The Scottish post-punk band took their name from the protagonist featured in Franz Kafka's novels The Trial and The Castle. The character Josef K also appears in the short story "A Dream."

15. The Artful Dodger

British garage band The Artful Dodger was named after the leader of the juvenile pickpocket gang in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Founders Mark Hill and Pete Devereux took the name because of all the bootleg songs they made when they first got started in the music industry.

16. The Boo Radleys

This name comes from the mysterious Boo Radley of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. According to the band's MySpace page, "The name comes from the shady character in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, but was chosen (in a pub) just because they liked the sound of it."

17. Sixpence None The Richer

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Sixpence None The Richer took their name from a passage in C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity. The section from Lewis' book is about a son asking his father for a sixpence to buy him a gift.

"When the father received the present, he was none the richer because he originally gave the sixpence to his son," lead singer Leigh Nash said on The Late Show with David Letterman. "The analogy is to God who gives gifts for us to glorify him. He is not richer because of our presentation since he originally gave the gift."

18. Okkervil River

Okkervil River lead singer Will Sheff named his indie rock band after a short story by Russian novelist Tatyana Tolstaya.

"There’s a lot of writing in the second person, a lot of jumping around in terms of what she was talking about, and it just felt very intuitive to me," Will Sheff told MTV. "A lot [of] how those experiences might feel to me, where you’re waking up from a dream and you’re jostled around. I was just really impressed by her writing."

Okkervil is also the name of a muddy river in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

19. The Airborne Toxic Event

The Los Angeles-based indie rock band based their name on a section from the novel White Noise by Don DeLillo.

20. Moby

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Born Richard Hall, the electronic songwriter got his middle name "Melville" and the nickname "Moby" from his parents, who told him at a young age that Moby Dick author Herman Melville was in their family lineage. "The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great-granduncle," he told CNN.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Design
      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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