The world’s atwitter, but where have all the words gone?

This is a guest post by John F. Harnish

Where have all the words gone???

They’ve gone to twitters, tweaking here and twittering there, saying more of less to everyone.

I admit I’m Twitter-challenged. I have a 140-character phobia. When it come to composing text-speak, I suffer from dysfunctional thumbs compounded with touches of wordiness and bouts of rambles. I’m cursed with an aversion to shredding thoughts into frail fragments expressed with characters as parts of words.

It seems like we’re going back to the days of Western Union telegrams when the cost of sending the message was determined by the number of words. “Love” in the closing of the telegraphed message was sent free of charge. IMO, “u r loved” and “luv u” loses something in the condensing into abbreviated characters. The persona of the persons connecting is reduced to digits tap-dancing across a micro-mini keyboard linked to the access device of choice. The personal touch of humankind is electrified and reduced to the absolute common dominators to be zapped across the far reaches of the web. Wordy passions, once expressed in whole words, transcend to become an endless series of alien symbols surging through the internet.

I do believe it takes merely a few split seconds longer to send or post 140,000,000-characters as it does to zip off 140-characters of “Say what?” lingo. The neglected character is “W”—as in Who, What, When, Where, and Why! The missing element is the ability to expand freely on the meat of the matter and dare to sink your teeth into the pros and cons of what’s what that tells the whole story—or as the masthead for The New York Times states: “All the news that’s fit to print.” For too many folks in the Digital Age, it’s more a matter of what fits within the word count and isn’t too long. Instead of being concerned about what’s fit to print for the intended readership, the focus of the writer is on staying within the guidelines—which is usually a good idea when you’re writing to an established readership.

The buzz from the guidelines points out the merits of short, informative pieces, because in this age of instant connecting with abridged communications, people aren’t all that willing to invest time reading through lengthy epics. Unless, of course, it’s a damn fine story and/or the article is overflowing with information that will truly benefit the reader. Then “the more words the better” often prevails. But then too, folks have various perceptions about what’s beneficial and how many words are too long to venture into actually reading. “NVNG”—Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained. Ben Franklin said that.

“Less is more” usually isn’t true of wordsmithing. At times expressing an opinion or embellishing a comment cries with pain at being cut, condensed, and contrived to triteness to conform to a limiting word count. The meat and gravy gracing the bones with wonderful flavors have been stripped to the barest of bones, with scant morsels to chew on. “Just give me the skinny” seems to prevail in this digital age of almost instant communications.

Bullet point items expressed in corporate word crispness usurp descriptive paragraphs flowing with words of relative information. Product promotional copy has the abbreviated pitch in a scattering of keywords keyed to be found aligning in the most optimal advantages aligned by tireless search engines. Writing with a purpose yields to writing for readers with a short attention span—assuming the vast majority reads and comprehends on a 6th to 9th grade level. “See Jane run and jump.”

“Brief is best,” so worry not about the devilish details—dealing with details can be so worrisome. Drats, wanting “just the facts” eclipses the desire to polish the factoid with sparkling nuances from personal experience and gems from additional research.

During my freelance decades, that thankfully continue in this digitized medium, I was accustomed to magazine editors assigning a topic with a word count. Typically the restriction would be given as a span of 1,000 to 1,250 words.

Woe be the newbie writer who overwrote and delivered final copy of 1,500 with the assumption the editor would do some editing and cut words as needed to fit. Truth is, most of the editors I worked with hated cutting words from submitted material. Likewise, seasoned authors cringed at the thought of having their finished work hacked apart to accommodate a magazine layout.

Print media is limited by the number of column inches; the greater the word count, the higher the number of column inches. The total number of editorial column inches is determined by the number of pages and the amount of sold advertising space.

The blossoming blogs in the digital age aren’t limited by the printed pages, and advertising space is optional for a price—and may not even be included in the article area. However, some blogs with guest bloggers and solicited comments have various word counts as limitations. I have a new blog at, and I use as many words as needed to expand on the topic. That’s a beauty of the digital age; infinite column inches to tell your story without fear of exceeding limitations—longer stories can even become ebooks.

One reverse word count requirement I agree with is Amazon’s mandate for reviews to contain a minimum of twenty words. This imposed rule does away with two and three word zingers such as, “A page turner!”—brilliant statement of the obvious; “Absolutely astonishing…”—taken out of context, “It’s absolutely astonishing a writer could write such crap.” “I couldn’t put it down.”—because I can’t remember where I put it down before falling asleep (doesn’t work with ebooks).

Invest as much time and effort in writing a blog or a comment as you would put into any content you’re writing for publication. Remember, everything posted to the internet could be hanging out there for a very long time. Be sure there’s some meat on the bones for readers to benefit from.

Enjoy often…John


About this post’s author:

John F. Harnish, aka John Franklin, is the author of over two dozen printed and e-books. His recent series explains the marvelous opportunities ebooks provide for authors. John’s recent enovel is Blast the Hell Out of Tornados. He has been writing professionally and involved in various aspects of publishing for over five decades. John recently retired as a senior executive from a mid-size publisher. He has taught courses in advertising design, marketing, print production, and creative writing. John is a cancer survivor—“so far, so good.” He lives in the greater Philadelphia area with his loyal canine companion Aurora.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments

Too funny, and too true, John. Let’s round up all those missing “W”s and put them back to work! Storytellers unite to use every word in the dictionary on a regular basis. It would be horrible if any of them felt left out. And once they’re left out, how can they communicate with us?

Thanks for saying it for all wordy writers.

Lee fullbright

Loved this, John!

John F. Harnish

Thank you muchly for your appreciation of finding a few laughs in my “wordy” piece about worldly words.

Although I’m not being interviewed on Oprah for a rating related tell all rant, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that no word enhancing drugs were used to stimulate my carefully selected words—the not so carefully neglected words can be blamed on the phase of the moon. As an unrelated side note, no trees, branches, or twigs were destroyed in the electrified digitations of my wordsmithing efforts.

I do freely admit that I had—actually I still have it—an unfair advantage. When other kids were taking lessons learning how to blow a horn, bang on drums, or tickle the keys of a piano, my parents wisely enrolled me in a humor course. My parents were frugal, with ten wrappers from Good Humor bars as proof of purchase—bar codes were decades away—they got a ten percent discount on the tuition. My father said to me that humor can be played anywhere, and I don’t need to drag along a musical instrument or worry about the piano or fiddle being out of tune, and it’s easier to attune humor to the laugh level of the audience.

That’s how it came to be that while other kids were toiling learning scales I was busy clowning around. The only musical aspect was mastering the art of whistling for dramatic underscoring when telling a tall tale. In the interest of less than full disclosure, I did have to repeat some of the work on premature “e-joke-u-lation” so the promised punch-line was in synch with the audience. Laughing prematurely while you are telling the joke is a serious shortcoming—so to speak.

I learned brazen approaches to fooling about with words, you know, those double-entendres that are fun to play upon, along with twisting words and linking together similar sounding words. Slowly I submerged into the depth of satire—let me tell you, that’s some deep shit. Understatements are grossly understated, at least that’s how I see it as an afterthought.

Humor is best when interactive, thusly extensive training was devoted to making the most of seemly dumb questions…

“Are you trying to be funny?” –Yes I am… and by the dumb look on your face, it’s working!!!

“Are you trying to be clown?” –No, I’m jest trying to be funny!!!
“I bet you think you’re funny?” –Eureka, we have a winner… merry mind over the grey mass of the masses!!!

“Excuse me… was that ‘buck’ with a ‘B’?” –Now what the duck do you think it was???

“Have you no shame?” –Oh, I hope not!!!

Upon graduation, I joined the noteless ranks with Funny Girl, Joker Jay, Sassy Sally, Bruce Chillus, Brazen Barbie, Jimmy Nibbles, and Pete Moss—an august gathering of grads from the School of Good Humor. There’s no truth to the rumor that upon graduation you get a Good Humor ice cream truck—only a Dixie cup and nothing more.

Here are links to an article about publishing I was interviewed for that you might find interesting.

It’s chilly near Philly… actually it’s very cold!!!

Enjoy often… John

Leonel U. Ingram

Yagoda, a Journalism professor and author, has been keeping track of this linguistic phenomenon and even established an online journal to note his daily encounters with borrowed words from the Brits.


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