Twitter and the Ten Thousand Character Mistake

If Twitter is truly going to expand tweets to 10,000 characters, it will mean the death of the service. Brevity is not merely the soul of wit. It forces editing of any comment - funny, insightful, evocative, provocative, profane, or inspiring - into its purest form.

Limited space forces people to think carefully about word choice, about phrasing, about tone. Opening it up to a half-acre of text will encourage meandering, mushy, diarrheal verbosity. Verbosity is not necessarily the soul of poor speech, but it is certainly its handmaiden.

For example, here are the first 10,000 characters of a book you should buy, a book that has a few pointed things to say about verbosity and the type of people who engage in it.

“VERBOSITY’S VENGEANCE - A GRAMMARIAN ADVENTURE NOVEL” BY TONY NOLAND. Chapter One.  A gruesome sentence flew toward the Grammarian, blasted from the barrel of Professor Verbosity’s latest weapon, the Concept Cannon. Festooned with a dozen hook-like prepositional phrases, the complex construct spun widely to ensnare the superhero. Anticipating the attack, twin thunderclaps exploded from the Grammarian’s gauntlets as he fired a powerful pulse of parentheses from one hand and a simultaneous shower of semicolons from the other. The punctuations found their marks, creating nodal points that shattered the sentence into a cloud of fragments. With an electric shriek of memetic energy, the construct collapsed like an accordion. Discrete, unconnected phrases bent and flexed harmlessly around the Grammarian. “Give up, Professor Verbosity,” he said. “You should know by now that sheer weight of words is no match for the power of punctuation!” He shifted into a fighting stance and faced his opponent, who had backed to the far side of the room. Professor Verbosity lifted the Concept Cannon and pulled a lever. The barrel swiveled into an angular projection. Blue sparks shone along the length of the weapon as electronic circuits reconfigured themselves. “Is that so, hero? Let’s see how well you can withstand my Redundancy Ray!” “You need a new bag of tricks, Verbosity. I’ve already seen that a dozen times. Now, give up!” The supervillain smiled in response. “You always try to bluff your way out of difficulty, don’t you, Grammarian? I can’t say I don’t admire the attempt to win with words instead of brute force, but in this case, I’ll use both.” The weapon in his hand was now shaking with barely contained power, long plasma streamers flowing from end to end. “True, my Redundancy Ray is an old favorite, but I haven’t shown it to you since I added the Rephraser Refractor!” Blue lightning exploded from the weapon. In less than a second, a million microfilaments of memetic concept energy wrapped themselves around the Grammarian. Knocked to the ground by the force of the impact, he had no chance to react before the energy coalesced into a single, coherent sentence. Within the densely convoluted word-construct, the Grammarian was immobilized. It’s about time he pulled out a real weapon, the hero thought. If I’d had to duck and dodge much longer, he surely would have begun to realize that I was holding back. Professor Verbosity laughed in triumph, delighted to see his foe struggling in the grip of the memetic energy his weapon was projecting. The Grammarian struggled even more vigorously and threw in a growl of frustration to enhance the effect. For a moment, he thought he might have overplayed the acting, but the hero could see that Verbosity was convinced of his triumph. Supervillains are suckers for cliché, the Grammarian thought, every one of them. “You’ll never win, Professor Verbosity!” He spit his archenemy’s name with obvious contempt. Pinned to the floor under the weight and complexity of shimmering word-memes, he fought for breath as his bonds grew ever tighter. Now, his gasping was only partly exaggerated for effect. Although allowing himself to be captured was part of the Grammarian’s plan to trick Verbosity into revealing his latest plot, Lexicon City’s smartest hero feared that that he’d underestimated his foe. Professor Verbosity laughed. “Ah, my dear Grammarian,” he replied, “I have already won, insofar as the first and most crucial step in winning is to render you utterly and completely helpless. These sentences are not only long and complex enough to entangle you completely while you try to parse out subject and object amid the subtending and supporting prepositional and participial phrases, they are also perfectly correct grammatically, which renders you powerless to break free!” Under the triumphant gaze of his nemesis, the Grammarian was indeed struggling, completely snared in the thick ropes of words. He tried to find some flaw, some grammatical mistake that he could exploit. With all his super-powered lexicographical might, he scanned and rescanned the sentence, though it was blindingly painful to do so. Being captured was part of the plan; being rendered unconscious was not. He wanted some avenue of recourse if he needed to go to one of his backup plans. Unfortunately, Verbosity had gone to great lengths this time, figuratively and verbally. If only there were an inconsistent verb tense, a dangling or misplaced modifier, even an intransitive verb used transitively, but there were no grammatical mistakes to latch onto. The Grammarian needed to get to the bottom of his foe’s plot and time was running out more quickly than anticipated. Stepped up your game, have you, Verbosity? Well, you always fall for a taunt, you windbag. “You’re insane! When I break free of this sentence, I’ll put a stop to your criminal circumlocutions!” “Typically valiant words from my typically valiant nemesis, or rather, a defeated and broken man who once was a worthy adversary to my rhetorical skill and encephalitic eloquence... you mustn’t try to -” “AHA! An ellipsis! If only I can grab it in time!” “- struggle so, for as you can see, my confounding concordances of verbal envelopment are employed without flaw, a condition which encompasses the little ellipsis you spotted, as well as the en dash you forced me to use - entirely against my will, but without consequence to the strength of the bonds holding you - as well as the em dashes I just threw in, purely as a lark, not in the sense of a bird preparing to take flight, which would be completely inappropriate in this context, given your utterly earthbound condition, but in the sense of a jest, a jape, a witticism at your expense, Grammarian, for as my memes move to muffle the mouth you muster to mock me, you are now naught but an object of ridicule and contempt, the highest of the high made the lowest of the low, the mightiest of the mighty made the -” With a tremendous explosion, the skylight in the ceiling of the old factory burst inward, cutting off the flow of words threatening to choke the life out of the Grammarian. A gleaming, armored man did a graceful back flip through the rain of glass shards and landed perfectly in front of the supervillain. His sleek, silvery armor was airbrushed with an iridescent pattern that was part sunrise, part moonlight. Verbosity recoiled. “No, not you! Not when I was so close to -” “Yes,” the newcomer interrupted, “it is me, the Avant Guardian! Now, Professor Verbosity, face the might of the Champion of Chic! I’m here to stop your evil plans, whatever they are!” On the floor, the Grammarian was furiously trying to shout at the armored hero, to tell him that his interference was going to ruin everything. Unfortunately, as the Grammarian was completely muffled by interlocking clauses, sub-clauses and parenthetical asides, his words were unintelligible. The Avant Guardian glanced down at the bound superhero and puffed his chest out a little more. “I shall also rescue my colleague, the Grammarian. There’s no way to escape, Professor Verbosity! At all!” The villain sneered, but shifted his memetic energy projector gun away from the Grammarian to point it at the Avant Guardian. Without the flow of energy, the sentence-bindings lost focus, and the Grammarian felt the bonds start to loosen. “Au contraire, you metal-clad buffoon,” Verbosity cried. “Among the many ways to escape are -” “Save your speeches for prison, Professor!” Punctuation marks erupted from the giant hero’s silver gauntlets, a blinding cascade of periods, question marks, hyphens, and exclamation points. A glittering stream of memetic energy flew like a Pelikan blue-black hurricane into the sputtering face of Professor Verbosity; the venal viceroy of verbiage stumbled backward, shouting a short, sharp sentence. The great splash of punctuation rained onto the prone form of the Grammarian. With a crackling release of energy, the serpentine syntax snare fell apart into discrete phrases and clauses as the terminal punctuation marks lodged among the tangle of word-memes. Each new sentence fragment glowed and hissed with latent memetic energy. Verb forms collapsed from gerund to infinitive to simple, while prepositional phrases folded back in onto themselves and evaporated. The Grammarian diverted his intelligence to augment his physical strength, thrashing violently. If he could get a hand free in time, he might yet be able to salvage the situation! Verbosity crouched in a defensive stance and deflected another verbal assault from the Avant Guardian. With a snarl, the Professor responded with a tight string of overheated metaphors that caught the Avant Guardian in the thigh. His molecular-mesh nanotech armor flashed into a shower of molten metal as the beam raked across its surface. Sparks exploded as his armor short-circuited. The Guardian shouted and dodged, leaping sideways across the room. He landed heavily against a rack of tools and equipment, which collapsed on top of him. Professor Verbosity aimed his beam to follow, clearly intending to finish off the Avant Guardian. Before he could fire, he was knocked sideways by a wild accusation flung by the Grammarian. The Avant Guardian pushed away the debris and clambered to his feet. He drew a complicated-looking weapon and aimed it at the villain. “You don’t have a prayer against me, Professor Verbosity. And once I free the Grammarian with this sentence diagramming gun, you’ll be trapped good! And by that I mean bad! Trapped bad!” On the floor, the struggling Grammarian moaned with frustration. “Uh, badly! I meant badly!” His weapon hummed in a rising pitch as it charged, green and orange indicator lights winking along its length. Professor Verbosity didn’t respond, but swiveled his aim and blasted the floor underneath the Avant Guardian. A rebounding wave of energy threw the slab of concrete up to smash into the hero’s legs. He fell back into the debris as dozens of electric discharges erupted from the knee and ankle joints of his armor. The diagramming gun flew into the tangle of verbal bonds around the Grammarian where it was completely caught up in the argument. The weapon discharged, but with no rationality guiding it, the gun’s grammatical formalism only made the sentence structures more complicated without increasing clarity. Professor Verbosity aimed at the wordcloud and shouted quickly, pulsing memetic energy into the bonds to renew their strength. “Like two sides of the same coin, aren’t you? Two peas in a pod! Two birds of a feather! Well, this will take care of two birds with one stone!” Reinforced by the power of overused metaphor, the tangle of grasping memes grew heavier and more leaden with every second. The Grammarian tried to speak, but the tightening bonds were again crushing the breath out of him. From across the room, a wrench flew in front of Professor Verbosity’s face. Startled, the villain turned sideways, ducking under another flying tool. Half-buried amid the wreckage of the steel shelving and obviously not yet able to stand on his damaged legs, the Avant Guardian was grabbing and throwing anything within reach. A fusillade of hand tools rocketed across the room; Professor Verbosity dodged most and batted the rest away. His opponent’s concentration broken, the Grammarian felt the bonds around his arms shift. He clawed away the muffling memes that masked his mouth. Through a gap in the energy bindings, he brought up his right hand and shouted, “Full stop, Professor!” He sprayed a wide stream of terminal punctuation marks, striking the furious villain a glancing blow. The Avant Guardian took advantage of Professor Verbosity’s partial immobility to grab another tool and drew back for a throw. “Guardian! No!” The Grammarian’s shout was too late. The heavy framing hammer tumbled end over end, flying forward. The Grammarian shot another

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