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Down the Hatchet

Six Hundred Words or Else

So the honest-to-goodness truth is that I have no idea what to write about this week. This is not a unique position for me since most weeks find me dawdling about on Wednesday afternoon, bugging everyone I know for column topics. Usually something sticks out or inspiration strikes in time to save me, but once in a great while, it doesn’t.

When it doesn’t, I’m often stuck thinking about how maybe this will be the week where I give in and write a column about how I can’t think about something to write about. This is an extreme “break glass in case of an emergency” case we’re talking about here, so be sure to evacuate the building when it happens. Luckily, drastic measures were narrowly avoided this week when I finally decided what to write this column about: my friend, my foe, the harsh task-master that is: Word Count.

You see, my columns, theoretically, should be around 700 words long. This may not sound like a lot, given that your average rant about penguins can carry you for almost 50 words, but it’s really quite a bit. I’m usually happy to break the bare minimum of 600 words. These are momentous occasions that usually result in me shouting and doing a little dance which usually gets me kicked out of whatever lecture I happen to be writing my column in at the time. Anything less than 600 is often unacceptable to my editors. I still remember the painful time when I tried to submit a 598 word column-- my editors shouted at me and threw the column in my face; it was horrible. What’s really memorable about that scarring event is that I totally made it up, which isn’t too hard to figure out considering I submit my columns via e-mail. The only contact I have with my editors is an occasional call telling me that what I wrote was totally incomprehensible, and would I mind terribly if they just rewrote the entire thing since I obviously have, at most, a tenuous grasp of the English language.

Anyway, it’s very useful to have this little gizmo built into my pseudo-legitimate copy of Microsoft Word that tells me whether or not submission at this point will enter me into a world of pain. It really makes you wonder about why we use word limits, though. Shouldn’t it be a character limit? I mean, if I write a column about elevators, I shouldn’t have to write as much as a column about socks. Seriously, “elevators” is like two times as long as the word “socks.” I should only have to write half as many words in an elevator column as in a sock or hair column. It’s all about how long the column looks. I mean it’s not like anybody reads them anyway. They all just go, “hey, Akshay wrote a nice full grey box there. Yup, looks like he got a whole lotta letters in there. Good for him. Glad he can still come up with quasi-distinct ways of pounding his head against a keyboard to come up with these utterly random columns full of totally meandering sentences that seem like they’re never going to end even though they’re, like, totally examples of those ‘run-on’ things that my English teacher used to tell me about.”

I mean, shouldn’t quality count? Shouldn’t really long words (the hallmark of intelligent writing) count for more than short little stupid words like “the,” “like,” and “yam?” But no, it’s all about the Word Count. Fascists.