What’s in a Title?

DSL’s latest opus is at least in the running for Longest Title Ever, and possibly among the Top Ten. But I have somewhere in my papers at home the paragraph-long title of a 17th-century political pamphlet, which I found in the card catalog at Harvard’s Widener Library back in my undergrad days while looking for something else altogether. Sorry, D, you haven’t quite made it.

Somebody, I forget who, once said he didn’t care who writes the laws of a society, if he could write its songs. More to the point, it matters little who writes the news; what matters is who writes the headlines. Most of us forget that the two are almost never written by the same person. And that, more often than not, they are not read by the same people. Back in my free-lance writer days, I got tired of writing great articles with marvelous titles and seeing editors tweak them into meaninglessness (and then, in some cases, decide not to publish them because they didn’t mean anything.) So I developed a trick I now recommend to all of you with aspirations in print—write whatever you want to, and then give it the most awful title you can think of. The editor will, of course, change the title. And may then decide that s/he has made his/her mark and need do no more tweaking. You will end up with a totally vacuous title, but the rest of your text will probably survive intact. What more can a writer ask?

CynThesis

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