I’ve talked a bit about the tags that people assign to blog posts and how a given tag can mean wildly different things to different people. (A recent example: a week or two ago the tag ‘curling’ led to an article about Jennifer Jones, one of the most talented curlers and unconvincing actresses of her generation. It also led to something entitled “Tell Me About It, Stud.” I was briefly fooled by a picture containing significant amounts of ice but believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t about throwing rocks at houses. The conclusion? Tags are subjective.
Well, most of them.
Most of the time when I ‘write’, I don’t have a specific length in mind. Chalk this up to a lack of planning if you want; sometimes I think “this one will probably be short” or “this one might be a little long” but only sometimes. Most of the time I just drone on and on until I
fall over backwards get thirsty and have to go get a drink. Not that anything I’ve written has been all that long — I don’t think I’ve ever broken 2000 words and Wikipedia tells me that a short story is usually longer than that. But there are tags — I’ve talked about one of them before — that relate to the length of a post; those are probably pretty objective and I’m a long time fan of ‘objective.’
Of course, it turns out they’re not. Even though they’re about numbers.
Numbers. How do I know the number of words in a posting? Well, the WordPress text editor thingy that I don’t actually use gives you a running count of the words in something that you’re editing. Handy thing, that.
In addition, since I
typically almost always edit posts on a unix machine (it’s in Seattle which isn’t really relevant but I find the distance from my keyboard to the words typed on that keyboard an amusing factoid) I can use the tools provided by the second most important invention of AT&T Bell Labs. The file consists of plain text along with a list of links that I plan to insert so a command something like
cat blog.postings | grep -v '^http' | wc -w
tells me the number of words I’ve typed.
I was writing ‘Meeting‘ (or, actually, cutting-and-pasting it from an invention of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory into the WordPress editor thingy) when I noticed that ‘Meeting’ was 1000 words.
(Well, that particular draft was. It’s changed since then.)
I was a little surprised. I was surprised that it was that long — after all it was little more than an anecdote about meeting someone at a doughnut shop; how on earth could it be that long? And of course, exactly 1000 words seemed darned unlikely. So the first thing I did was verify the number.
Unfortunately, wc told me that there were 1012 words, not 1000.
Well hell — one of them must be wrong, but which one? Obviously, I looked for a third opinion and picked an online tool that I’ve used before. I was confident that it would reveal which tool was right and which was wrong.
Unfortunately, it said that there were 1057 words in my text. A fourth tool said 1026. Now I really didn’t know how long it was. Clearly all four tools define ‘word‘ in different ways but the actual definitions used aren’t immediately obvious. Worse, a google search for more information apparently uses similar keywords to one for search engine optimization so I learned stuff I truly did not want to learn and didn’t learn what people think constitutes a word.
What this means is that I don’t know what a word is or how to count to 1000 any more. Apparently, every day I know a little bit less than I knew the day before. I’ll add that to the list I keep of the unnecessary perqs of getting older — just below presbyopia, hair loss and getting up at 4 AM to find people in my living room eating cake.