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In the movie "Stranger Than Fiction" the professor of literature makes quite a big deal about the phrase "little did he know."

I've written papers on "Little did he know." I've taught classes on "Little did he know." I once gave an entire seminar based upon "Little did he know."

Is this phrase as relevant and studied in writing as it is implied in that movie?

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I just really love that someone actually asked this question! The fact that this had to be explained in such good grammar has robbed me of its humor. –  user3472 Mar 31 '12 at 17:56
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

While it's true that the phrase has no great significance, it does have connotations associated with slightly old fashioned fairy-tale style narration, such as you might find in Alice and Wonderland, Pooh Bear, Grimm's Fairy Tales, etc.

You probably wouldn't use the phrase in regular writing unless you were making a deliberate ironic nod in this direction, which is what the narration style in Stranger than Fiction does.

The comment about once giving an entire seminar on this phrase is a lighthearted joke at the expense of English Lit academics who have a reputation for massivily overanalysing the smallest aspects of litrature and writing.

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Whenever you write "little did (s)he know" in fiction, you're probably writing too much from the omniscient author perspective, rather than from the character's perspective. This may indicate a violation of the "show, don't tell" rule.

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The phrase "little did he know" has no particular significance to English Literature or writing in general. The only reason that it was significant in that movie is because the author character had a penchant for using the phrase, and the professor was able to use it to identify the voice in Will Farrell's head.

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The phrase convinced the professor that an author was behind the voice, but he ultimately wasn't able to identity her. By chance Harold heard her voice on the tv program. –  Jack B Nimble Mar 23 '11 at 16:07
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