I sized up some of my columns as they appeared in print and I said to myself, well, Runyon, I see you are up to your old habit of windifying.
This, dear reader, is the habit of being too windy.
I might say prolix or garrulous or verbose, which denotes an excess of words in proportion to the thought, but I prefer windy.
It is a good old up-country expression and refers to breath as expended in words, especially as having more sound than sense.
Windifying is common to many of our public figures and private citizens. It prevails among officials and even the clergy but is more pronounced among writers than any other class, though radio announcers are commencing to be strong contenders for top place.
I admit I am often a flagrant offender. I counted the number of words in each column I inspected and found the average was 950 per column which is 200 more words than my column calls for, give or take twenty or thirty little ones.
I said to myself, Runyon, who do you think you are anyway, sounding your bazoo to that extent? I said, read those columns over again line by line and word by word, a harsh penalty to be sure, but justified by your breaking of the vow you took several years ago not to exceed 750 words per column, and see for yourself the amount of verbiage you got in.
Well, that is just what I did and in every column I found enough of what I might call “water” in the way of words to fill a vat. If this “water” had been squeezed out no one of the columns would have exceeded 700 words and would have said everything I intended and probably better than it appeared with the excess.
I found far too many “buts” which seems to be a favorite word of mine, too many “howevers,” too many “wells” and “in any events,” and too many “of courses” and “as I was sayings.” There was plenty of tautology, which is unnecessary repetition whether in word or in sense.
How does this happen, you ask?
Well (see, there it is!) in writing a column one word leads to another. You get to galloping along a certain line of thought and at the point where instinct tells you to pull up, something else occurs to your mind and you slide it in, hoping that they will somehow be able to stretch the space allotted you and make room for the excess.
The copy reader probably cuts it out and you are always surprised that the amputation in no wise disturbs the continuity or thought of your essay, in fact if you write a column for enough years you will learn that nothing the editor does to it affects the destiny of mankind or the course of the world.
I think every writer of a column would prefer to write a short one, and that every newspaper editor wishes they were all short. But brevity could reach inadequacy by which I mean too great a limitation would prevent some column writers from expressing their opinions and would reduce the entertainment of the reader.
I think the most envied column ever written, if you could call it a column, was Will Rogers’ daily hundred and fifty words. It may have run over that occasionally and it was also sometimes less. It was envied by all other newspaper writers because of the scant labor it represented as compared to their own and because of its popularity and resultant income. Every editor wanted it as it took very little space in the paper.
I have heard it said that at one time Rogers’ tiny column was grossing $2200 per week, and it must have had a circulation of millions considering the number of papers in which it appeared. It was not great writing but it was something that only Rogers could do, as is evidenced by the fact that since his death scores of writers have attempted to produce something like it without success.
It was just a daily dash of homely philosophy on events of the day, yet the great Irvin S. Cobb was unable to turn out a reasonable follow on to it when he was induced to try after Rogers died. Cobb’s effort had a certain vogue for a short time, then met a natural death. But on the other hand, Rogers could not shine Cobb’s shoes as a writer at greater length.