Can I get a word?

Dave Smurthwaite

October 7, 2011

I’ve been asked to comment on “the value of good writing” (or, “the value of writing well,” for those of you that hold modern-day grammar to a such a high standard that it’s only now attainable by astronauts or those circus clowns with ridiculously tall ladders).? The value of something well written, that is.

Let me begin by asking the more basic question: What are words worth these days? After all, if words are the building blocks of good writing, it would only make sense that we derive the value of the whole by valuating the sum of the parts.

With that in mind, I propose two possible methods: One would be to assign each letter a monetary value based on the newly-formed ISI (International Scrabble Index): Common letters such as A, E, I, L, N, O, R, S, T and U would be worth one penny each, while K would be worth a nickel and Q and Z would get you a dime. So, the trade value of a phrase like “The quizzicality of ventriloquizing whizzbangs is subjectivized beyond oxyphenbutazone” would be worth $2.08, while “I love you” would get you $.14. Now, you might reasonably argue that by placing more value on less-common letters we might foster a world of communication based more on confusion than on common ground. To that, I would simply argue “Psychoanalyzing jazzlike katzenjammers never a benzodiazepine make.” Now gimme $1.68.

Another way to monetize words would be a comparison model based on well-known clichés. So by saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” we could hypothetically calculate that (Word A = .001 x Picture A). Another metric might be the phrase “actions speak louder than words” (Word A < Action A). It’s simple enough – all that we would have to do was calculate the value of specific actions or images and then apply the proper calculation. The only downside I really see to this model is that if countries start adopting really abstract clichés as the base for their calculations, like “a word to the wise” (prone to induce major class divisions based on level of education), “eat your own words” (likely to incite food shortages), or “you took the words right out of my mouth” (possibly promotes either larceny or, worse, dentistry).

So, again I ask the question, what’s the value of something well written? My guess would be about $26.78 if this post is any indication.

Feel free to send a check or money order to David J Smurthwaite, 175 W 200 S, suite 3002, SLC UT 84101.