A Thousand Words Is Worth A Picture


I am a confessed antique treasure hunting junkie.  Some people go to church on Sunday, but I go to Todd Farm Flea Market in search of what, I’m never quite sure, but I know it when I see it.

This past Sunday on my usual trip to Todd, I picked up a Boston Newspaper that dated from 1858. When the seller said “a buck,” I couldn’t refuse.  When I got home, I opened it up and started to read. It’s a huge piece of  paper about 20X28 with teeny tiny type, 4 or 6pt at the most, with no pictures or illustrations, just words.  The stories are just that, stories and I couldn’t find much of anything that resembled what we would today consider to be news. One story in particular caught my eye and made me realize just how much communication has changed from then to now:

Scene In A Metropolitan Railroad Car

Yesterday afternoon, as one of the cars on the Metropolitan Railroad rolled along its rails, a lady, extensively beflounced and expansively crinolined, beckoned to the polite conductor as it was passing West Street, in order to take passage to the South End.  Her robe was in a state of delicious newness: its tissue folds were hardly cold from the modiste’s last artistic touch, and her attire was altogether gotten up evidently with a reckless regard of expense. The car was only partly filled – one side free from incumbrance. Upon its cushions she sat herself at ease with thought for her robe’s intactness uppermost, and spread its voluminous flounces carefully to their natural amplitude. She cast her eyes at the conductor with an air of composure, sang froid, and self-collectedness.

“Conductor,” she asked in the blandest of manners and most mellifluous of tones, “how many seats do I occupy?”

Taken by surprise, he glanced from one side to the other of her extended dress, and then at her. The lady’s face was serenely interrogative.

“About four, I should think Madam,” he said, wondering what would come next.

“Here are twenty cents,” she said, dropping the dimes from her lavender-kidded fingers into his extended palm. “ I do not wish to be disturbed.”

One would have thought the possibility of disturbing such a supreme embodiment of composure rather impossible; but having secured herself from the chance, in spite of stares and whispers, the quadrupled-fare pursued her way happily and uncreasedly  to her destination. It was a spectacle to admire. We commend her example to all ladies of similar balloonish dimensions.

Now in today’s language, this article could easily be reduced to the 140 characters of Twitter:

Wealthy woman wearing a big fancy dress, pays four times the trolley fair for the four seats she and her fluffy garments occupied.

But does that fill you with the image that the 19th century version does? I recently read a post on Copyblogger about editing your writing, only saying what you really have to say and not “falling in love with your words.”  But take a look at the adjectives and adverbs used in the article: beflounced, uncreasedly, crinolined, delicious newness, lavendar-kidded fingers, balloonish dimensions – what can get better than that in conjuring up a perfect image of this fine lady of Boston.

Yes, editing is good, unnecessary words are bad, but in this world of  OMG, BTW, LOL, don’t forget to serve up a few tasty adverbs and adjectives now and then. Just choose the right ones. Writing is an art that has the power to create powerful and clear images, depending on the words that you pick. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with falling in love with your words. There’s got to be some kind of passion behind what your are doing or saying or writing or there is no point.

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