Monday, May 7, 2012

Humpty Dumpty on writing

What does Humpty Dumpty know about using words? Quite a lot, apparently. From Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

"Would you tell me, please,' said Alice 'what that means?"

"Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. "I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."

"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

"Oh!" said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

"Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night," Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: "for to get their wages, you know."

(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell YOU.)

-Humpty Dumpty, Through the Looking-Glass
Lewis Carroll, 1871

Well there it is. Humpty said it best. Pay your words extra and they will do extra work for you.

This reminds me of the days of the pulp writers, who were usually paid by the word. A penny a word, two cents a word. Can you imagine?

If Humpty Dumpty had his way, after you sold a story, the pennies YOU had earned with your words would go straight into the hands of your words! You'd never see a penny for the stories you wrote! Your words would collect payment for you, and then go spend your hard earned money at the local watering hole on cheap drinks while fraternizing with punctuation marks of questionable character: periods and commas and exclamation points who would be more than happy to fleece your words of their money. YOUR money.

Humpty Dumpty, what a dummy.

DON'T pay your WORDS. Make your WORDS pay YOU.


  1. Anything with Alice in Wonderland in it I love. I didn't remember this part with Humpty Dumpty. Nice post, turning it around. Hahahahhaa!

  2. Where did you find this image? Or did you take it? I'm actually researching an almost identical humpty dumpty figure that I recently acquired and was hoping to get some insight into the age / etc :)