Make sure you’re not too prolific. You could be taking words and punctuation away
from someone more needy.

—Duchess Goldblatt on Twitter, April 21, 2023

Because, after all, there are only
so many words to go around—
and there, in only two lines, I’ve used
a dozen of them—though more than

a dozen years ago researchers estimated
that there’s somewhere north of a million
words, and that’s just in English. And while
most English speakers know upward of

40,000 words, most of us use half that
many, which is good because that leaves
more for others. And that’s not even
considering all the commas, perhaps

the most deceptively simple but tricky-to-use
punctuation mark, and the equally
mystifying-to-many apostrophe, as well
as double quotations Americans use around

spoken words, the single quotes much
of the rest of the English-speaking world
employs. Not to mention my beloved
em dash—the width of a lowercase “m”—

the granddaddy of dashes, longer than
the en dash– (the width of a lowercase “n”),
and longer still than the trusty hyphen-
that lovely mark that both divides and joins.

Oh, it goes on and on. I realize now
how selfish I’ve been, wantonly using
oodles of words (many of them the same,
so does that count?) over so many years,

not rationing my commas, delighting in
the occasional exclamation point, and,
of course, halting a thought with a full stop.
Perhaps I can donate some rarely used gems

like facetious and henceforth, some
precious semi-colons and colons to those
who have so few. Here: Take them. Use them;
treasure them as the gems they are.

I’ve happily employed more than my fair
share in this lifetime, though, truth be told—
dear word gods, let this be so—
I pray that I’m not done yet.


You can listen to Jan read this poem here.

Jan Haag, editor-in-chief, The State Hornet, 1979-80

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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