Sunday, February 27, 2011
Q & A 185
I recently submitted a brilliantly crafted, brilliantly bad sentence to the most elitist first-sentence competition of them all. The rules clearly state: Sentences may be of any length BUT WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT ENTRIES NOT GO BEYOND 50 OR 60 WORDS.
In my apparently less-than-estimable opinion, I took that suggestion as I thought it was intended, and submitted a 320-word sentence that exuded pathos, humor, an air of mystery, a whiff of horror, and a parfum of literary excellence wrapped around the enigma of the state of agricultural futures on the moon.
In my submission, I acknowledged I had read the guidelines, writing: Why, yes, I did read the strong *recommendation* regarding word count. And the response back from this esteemed jury: A word to our verbabundent entrants, winning entries never run beyond fifty or sixty words.
So I call upon an arbiter, a dissector of words, meaning, and intent to clear my befuddled brain: When do numbers get represented as numerals and when, oh when, do you spell them out?
Let us first consider the words of the response, specifically: "winning entries never run beyond fifty or sixty words."
Fifty or sixty? Assuming winning entries sometimes run between 51 and 60 words inclusive, why not just say Winning entries never run beyond sixty words? Thinking the answer to my question might be that winning entries have never run beyond fifty words in the past, but might someday run beyond fifty in the future, but certainly never beyond sixty, I visited the site of the contest in question, confirming that I had the correct contest by locating the fifty-to-sixty-word guideline.
Next I brought up the list of grand prize winning first sentences to confirm my theory that no winner had ever been in the 50 to 60 range. Shockingly, I almost immediately came upon the 1984 winner, which consists of 53 words.
As I settled into a gloating posture at having proven that the guideline should read "beyond sixty" rather than "beyond fifty or sixty," my eyes fell upon other grand prize winners, most of which appeared to be longer than the 1984 winner. Realizing that possibly this was an optical illusion caused by the use of longer words in the longer-appearing entries (as demonstrated in the following chart:
Ed is an ox and so am I ),
I set to work counting the words in some of the winning entries. The chart below is a sampling of my astounding findings:
At this point I skipped ahead, thinking perhaps the guideline was introduced at the advent of the new century (and also tired of counting words), but no, 2003: 69; 2006: 63. Even as recently as 2009 the winner had 87 words.
I would estimate that half the winners have had more than fifty or sixty words, easily demolishing the blatant lie of the person who wrote to you claiming the winners NEVER run past fifty or sixty words (as well as publicly humiliating him/her).
But that wasn't what you asked. In the past I haven't given much thought to the format of numbers, but my policy, starting now, will be to avoid the problem entirely by using Roman numerals, which are always spelled out.
In closing, from a statistical standpoint, there's about a L/L chance the winning contest entry will have more than L or LX words, so good luck with your CCCXX-word sentence.
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:53 AM