‘Goldilocks zones’ are wonderful things. Student life is much more congenial once one has discovered the lovely, hazy place between boringly sober and utterly paralytic, or the mid-point at which you’re worried enough about your essay to venture to the library, but chilled enough not to sob into your book as soon as you open it and see a word you don’t understand. If only such a state existed in relation to word counts, my laptop keyboard might stand a chance. As matters stand, though, it has to put up with a weekly assault on the backspace key as I attempt to hammer down (literally) on my own verbosity.
There is no such thing as a happy medium with word limits – it’s feast or famine, and an epic fail either way. As per usual, Homer Simpson has it right. His suggestion for filling a word quota is to beef it up as per requirements by using the immortal lines, ‘Screw Flanders’. Undergrad attempts to beat the system are no more edifying or inconspicuous than Homer’s – they still stick out like the thumb you’ve made sore with all the keyboard jabbing, only without the comedy value. It’s like when a politician ‘answers’ a Paxman question by saying, ‘Well, Jeremy, this is clearly a very important issue’ – you might clock up thirty seconds, but nobody’s fooled. We can see right through your blatantly obvious and really quite offensive tactic of superfluously adding unnecessary words just to pad out a sentence and buy yourself time, even when they’re actually not needed much… so stop it.
Of course, if you’re an English student like me, it’s more a matter of verbal butchery than of filling in blanks. I’ve tried to pull off my lame attempts to cut stuff out as metatextual wittiness, but to no avail. Apparently my tutor wasn’t buying that all those fragmented, two-word sentences were a knowing nod to the syntax in Ulysses. Shame that. Oh well. Soldier on. Because eventually you’ll get there, though grammar may be sacrificed in the campaign. Pronouns will be dropped, conjunctions cut, noun phrases enforced, lists created; comma use will suffer and any opportunity for an elision or hyphen will be taken, even-when-not-exactly-grammatically-correct. It’s worth it for the grim victory of reaching the elusive threshold… until, of course, you realise that Word’s been including your footnotes. At that point I offer you two words of advice – ‘Screw Flanders’.