Monday, May 19, 2008

A New Pastime

I’ve just invented a new pastime. If you use Microsoft Word you can analyze your writing using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool that appears after you run the spell-check program, and determine the grade level at which you write. For example, thus far in this blog I am writing at a 9.2 grade level. If I remove the term “Flesch-Kincaid” it drops down to a 2.3 grade level. I guess that means to go from second to ninth grade you only learn two new words, Flesch and Kincaid. And you thought school was tough.

Anyway, my new pastime is to type out passages from famous authors and see how smart they are. For example, Shakespeare wrote “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Did you know he was writing at a 1.2 grade level? Shakespeare was writing at a first grade level! I mean he probably wrote: “See Spot. See Spot run. Out, out damned spot.” Whoever turned that into Macbeth was a genius, but it clearly wasn’t Bill Shakespeare.

Let’s try another. How about Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Clearly the guy was confused, and why? Because he was writing at a .8 grade level. Point eight! That is below first grade level. He was dumber than Shakespeare!

He probably wrote this when he was four or five years old. If he had been my kid and said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” I would have said, “Well, that makes no sense; you have to choose. Which was it: the best or the worst of times?” And if he refused to make up his mind, I would have taken him to a therapist. Best of times, worst of times. The kid has problems.

I am detecting a trend here. Shakespeare wrote before Dickens, but Dickens wrote dumber than Shakespeare. You would think we would get smarter over time, but no, things only get worse.

To test out my theory I went to the Author Himself who wrote: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void.” This tests out at 6.3. Not bad. God is a sixth grader, way beyond Shakespeare and Dickens. But even God can’t help us here because by the time we get to “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God” God’s writing skills fall to a 4.2 grade level.

So it seems that when it comes to writing devolution is the norm. But there are mutants. Abe Lincoln is my favorite: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” That is 12th grade prose. Lincoln wrote better than God! Could that be why He had him killed? Inquiring minds want to know.

By the way, if you’re wondering, this completed blog tests out at 4.4 grade level. My mother would be so proud.

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