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The six-word novel


Challenged to write a novel in six words, Ernest Hemingway supplied the following: “For sale: baby shoes. Never used,” a work of more pathos than most books I’ve read in these 60-plus years.

In the Minimalist seminar last semester, we discussed the value of brevity in writing (a possibility I rarely acknowledge in my own wordsmithing) and tried our hand at it. Here is mine: “Big date. Football team. One condom.”

Some few years ago a friend of mine did not succeed in a quest for tenure–that much abused system possibly in its twilight–and received the following six-word letter of rejection: “Good luck in your future endeavors.” Have there ever been six words with more meaning and simultaneously with less? They say volumes about the state of higher education and the callousness of a system that treats its faculty like toilet paper.

PS: If you can choose a language for this Hemingway exercise other than English–one that is more “efficient” in its use of words–I’ll nominate Julius Caesar’s immortal “Veni, vidi, vici.” THREE words! And it still works, even in English translation [“I came, I saw, I conquered”].

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