Opinion: Art of word count


How many words does it take? The air is filled with noise. All around us people are talking. Billboards shout down at us. Podcasts, televisions, computer screens – each in their own time are demanding our attention. Hundreds of words. Thousands of words. Millions of words. We are awash in communication. We cannot excuse ourselves from the excess. It is estimated that we contribute some 30,000 words of our own every week (about 850,000,000 in an average lifetime). To be sure, there is some variability. There are those of us who are sparing with what we say. Then, there are others among us who might dispose of two hours sharing an event that took 10 minutes.

Whatever the style of the speaker, the goal is the same – to communicate. So, it begs the questions: How many words are required? How many are too few or too many? As is popular on the walls of many of our homes, single words appear. They express concepts like eat, family, or love. One could assume that “eat” suggests a place in the domicile where such an activity might occur. But for “love,” is a single word enough? What about “love you”?  Does it say something different than “I love you”? Is the complete thought communicated? Saying “I love you because you pay me to do so” is very different from saying “I love you because you bring out the best in me.” Still, if our sonnet becomes epic and drags on for hours, does the simple and elegant point get lost for lack of a dedicated editor? Does the word count seem to count?

Effective statements require more than the right words – they might also require the right number of words. What do we hide behind our verbosity, and the same with unnecessary brevity?


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