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Just six words, and no more

There’s no avoiding the vogue for attempting to express a complete narrative, or life story, or epitome of one’s identity, into six words.

There is a book by Larry Smith, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, and the Internet is made for such crazes. BoingBoing, for example, has a page on which contributors are welcome.

Not surprisingly, this has captured the attention of members of the American Copy Editors Society. After all, when your 3,500-word masterwork comes lumbering to the desk, it is the copy editor who will have to reduce it to an essence of six words or so for the headline (with a fair likelihood that those are the only six words associated with the story that most customers will ever read).

So they have taken to it, and I can only stand, hat in hand, in mute admiration of Allan Wishart, or VanderViking, of the Vanderhoof Omineca Express, Vanderhoof, B.C., whose sublime entry encapsulates the life of the copy editor:

Edited it down to five.



Posted by John McIntyre at 4:24 PM | | Comments (4)


How about in four: Born, wed, retired, dead.

My favorite was from a science fiction writer. I believe the idea was repeated in a couple I read, but the gist was:

loop! Help, stuck in a time

The classic of the genre is, of course, the hypochondriac's epitaph:

I told you I was sick.

The following, coming in at five words, appeared in a Baltimore Sun subsidiary recently:

Del. Schuler eyes Bartenfleder's seat

prompting the following letter:

Dear Editor:

Sadly, we all know what happens to work performance once someone decides to quit, retire or change jobs: they stop working. Let's hope the residents of the 8th Legislative District don't suffer unduly as Del. Todd Schuler casts about, trying to decide what he wants to do with his life as he looks around for something more attractive. (Del. Schuler eyeing Bartenfelder's seat, Northeast Booster, February 13.)

With little community experience before running for the House of Delegates against President George W. Bush (who wasn't running), Todd's work in the House of Delegates has been similarly out of touch with the values of the people of the 8th District.

The legislative leadership gave him a pass on the Special Session tax bills. When he had a chance to do his job and vote for or against slots, he deferred his responsibility to the voters, forcing them to learn far more than they needed to about the issue so they could make an informed choice. His current bill to erase the term "marriage" from Maryland law is another example of how out of touch he is with the constituency of this district.

His vacuous thinking, as illustrated by his comment, "The thought process is that I am the only incumbent Democrat living in (Bartenfelder's) district so I have to consider it," says a lot.

If Del. Schuler believes that only incumbents can run for open seats, as he indicates, why, oh why, did he run for the House of Delegates to begin with? Moreover, what, oh what, will we who live here do for representation in the House of Delegates with no incumbents like him to replace him?

In recent years, hard working people who were in tune with the community and refused to shirk their responsibilities represented the 8th District. Residents of the 8th legislative and sixth councilmanic district deserve representatives who will address our issues, schools and roads being front and center, and share our values. Our delegates belong in their Annapolis offices and legislative chambers working for us, not hanging out in the social establishments of our capital city dreaming about another meal at the public trough.

Fortunately, there are excellent potential candidates to represent us. As mentioned in the article, one is former delegate John Cluster. Other candidates include civic leaders who have worked hard for the community, but never felt the need to hold office, such as longtime Perry Hall community leader David Marks.

The 8th District needs, and deserves strong, dedicated, proven leadership in Annapolis.

Bruce Robinson

The letter resulted in a chiding telephone call to the writer's home from Del. Schuler wherein he assured the writer, "We're still buddies."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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