There’s an old story about a reporter, an actor and the actor’s agent. The story is a lesson about brevity. And ambiguity.
A reporter is writing a story about an actor and, as part of the story, wants to include the actor’s age. Not being certain about that, and wanting to fulfill the journalist’s obligation for accuracy, the reporter calls the actor’s agent.
Actors, of course, are notoriously difficult to get a hold of. And are notorious for misrepresenting their age.
The reporter asks the agent the actor’s age. The agent isn’t certain he knows either. So, the agent sends a Western Union telegram to his client, the actor: “How old Cary Grant?”
Brevity “pays” since, at the time, Western Union charged senders by the word.
Actor Cary Grant receives the telegram and wires back:
“Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”
Today, of course, we have all sorts of ways to get in touch other people. But, despite the multiple methods for connecting, and the speed with which people can reach and respond to others, and at any length they chose and without regard to price, one notes how often the least expensive and most expansive medium is used for sake of brevity.
A common closing to email these days is: “All best”.
In person, one might say to the other: “Would you like to go with?”
And the greeting card that accompanies the gift you receive includes the pre-printed message: “Enjoy!”
Have we become so pressed for time, so incredibly busy, and so multi-tasked that we can no longer afford to write “All my best”? Or, being really extravagant with letters, “All the best”?
We’re only adding one very short word. It’s hard, in fact, to think of words shorter.
And when did we decide to become so stingy with language that we can no longer specify who the other is being invited to “go with”? As in: “I’m going for a cup of coffee, would you like to go with me?”
Croaking out a complete sentence, even when issuing an invitation, distributing best wishes, or expressing a joyful hope now seems an Olympic Event.
Perhaps, though, what’s really happening is that we’re banking words. By economizing in speech, email, and on pre-printed cards, the balance to our Word Bank increases, we draw interest in the balance, thereby increasing our wordly wealth.
Maybe it goes into an account similar to the one holding all the time we’ve saved.
Now what plans have we for our burgeoning bank accounts?
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