Ernest Hemingway wasn’t known for colorful rhetorical flourishes. Whether writing about day drinking at bullfights, blowing up bridges, or an old man yanking fish from the sea, “Papa” always opted for an economy of words. He told his stories with a simple directness that not only won him a Nobel Prize, but also made him an icon for successive generations of would-be alcoholic writers.
As a novelist, Hemingway has gone a little out of fashion in recent years. But the truth is that we need him now more than ever. Anyone who has ever been forced to read mindless PR missives, obtuse marketing emails, or the iTunes licensing agreement understands intuitively that just because someone uses a lot of words, doesn’t mean they’re actually saying anything.
It’s a problem that brothers Adam and Ben Long address with the Hemingway App, a handy tool that instantly breaks down your writing and flags verbal vomit. Using an algorithm, the Hemingway App shows instances of overlong sentences, injudicious use of adverbs, passive voice (which is bad), and 50-cent words. Spell-check, it turns out, doesn’t cover nearly enough. The app also assigns an approximate grade level for your writing, and this is one of the few times when a higher grade is not necessarily a better one.
The Hemingway App isn’t a cure-all for bad writing habits, but I’ll be shocked if the algorithm, or something like it, isn’t purchased and rolled into future versions of Microsoft Office. While the app deemed a Made Man piece I had written “Good” and composed on an eighth-grade level, it also revealed a troubling affinity for adverbs. I’m sure if I paste in this review, the phrase “troubling affinity” will be wreathed in purple.
So it goes. Hemingway didn’t become Hemingway by playing by all the rules.