“I sense an obsession…”

So I’m haggling with an editor of mine about the word count of the two pieces I am writing for the next issue of The Economist. Writers always want more words; editors want fewer words (they’d rather run more articles).

In this case, I lobbied passionately for one of the ideas, leading the editor, who happens to be the same one I’ve previously highlighted for her British humor, to comment that

I sense an obsession, and feel it may be good to indulge it.

With that, she upped my word count by 20%.

This is another instance not only of charm and British humor but also of good editing. Even if you are a writer editing yourself, it is good advice:

Sense your obsession, then indulge it. It may be infectious.

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12 thoughts on ““I sense an obsession…”

  1. Andreas,

    I wish you had as obsessively defended the “odd” American spelling “Center” against the British “Centre”, when “Center” appears in a proper name.

    Your editor:

    “a word either has to look odd to us [Brits] or odd to them [Yanks], and we opt for them.”


    For the Hannibal Blog Style Guide:

    The very oddness of proper names helps us distinguish, legally and cognitively, one person, place, or business from another. Hence all proper names (e.g., PetcareRX, Dachsie’s to Dane’s, 4 Paws Dog Grooming, Hairy D’Tails, Kathy’s K-9 Kottage, and Kute Klip Dog Spa) shall not be altered one jot or tittle.


    The name infringement lawsuit begun by The Center against The Centre reached a stunning climax yesterday.

    But not:

    The name infringement lawsuit begun by The Center against The Center reached a stunning climax yesterday.

    • One picks one’s battles, Jim M., and I chose to sit this one out. (I would have lost anyway).

      But I’m on your side. Proper names, especially when improper, should remain unchanged.

    • With regard to company names, I quote from The Economist Style Guide:


      Use English forms when they are in common use: Cologne, Leghorn, Lower Saxony, Lyons, Marseilles, Naples, Nuremberg, Turin. And English rather than American—Rockefeller Centre, Bar Harbour, Pearl Harbour—unless the place name is part of a company name, such as Rockefeller Center Properties Inc.

    • I must protest the Economist style rules. I would rather see the accepted by the society (or culture) norm preserved, especially if we are dealing with names.

      In your example, Rockefeller Center should remain spelled as is, If “Center” had been “center” then there would be implied license to use a preferred spelling.

      On a related note, I would follow the current accepted practice on pronunciation of proper names (and even local non-proper names). We do not Anglicize the pronunciation of the various heads of state, do we?

  2. “…….she upped my word count by 20%………

    Since I’m assuming you’re not paid per word, the Economist should be grateful that you’d want to write more words than the required minimum, for free.

    • You assume correctly, Phil, but it doesn’t work that way. Writing words is not like, say, peeling potatoes. There is negligible marginal effort for the (professional) author, and more is not necessarily better.

      As Twain famously implied when excusing himself to a friend (“I’m sorry I didn’t have time to write you a shorter letter…”), part of what we get paid for is to know so much that we can say it in fewer words than others. 😉

    • Now, now. You’ve been reading questionable publications, by the sounds of it.

      Incidentally, I’ve been in brainstorms (and you understand that this is purely hypothetical, a thought experiment) where we thought about whether to stop carrying ads altogether (Kindle-style) and to charge readers more instead. Purist, as it were.

    • Moi? Reading questionable publications? Of course I have. Most of the ones I’ve read were for such things as golf or photography or surfing or some other pursuit and were, primarily, advertising media.

      What was the result of the brainstorming? Or should I ask?

    • Well, I have read one or two questionable publications too in my day — purely for research purposes, you understand.

      The brainstorming had no result, but it’s interesting that it happened. One theory is that reading will go to iPad-like devices in future, stripped of ad clutter.

    • The brainstorming had no result

      One of the main reasons I refused to participate in them after having endured a few. They seemed to not be intended to resolve problems but to enjoy the frustration the problems created.

      Yes, the e-book concept may eventually win out with all things being “subscription”. The reason that advertising is prevalent is that it made subscription cheap enough by supplementing publication costs. I suspect that advertising will find its way into electronic publication… just as it has in the internet.

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