Saturday, June 19, 2010

In A Nutshell

Nutshells: The new standard of conciseness?

When people tell you something "in a nutshell," they're telling you the simplest, most concise version of the story that they can.

Of course, no one mentions the type of nut they're using. One would assume that smaller nuts mean a more concise statement. Therefore, a walnut is less concise than a peanut, which in turn is less concise than a pistachio.

If there's anything I love more than nuts, it's the metric system, so I'm using the "in-a-nutshell" principle to define a new unit of concision: the walnut. One walnut is the amount of concision needed to fit a story in a typical size walnut shell. I imagine the centiwalnut or the milliwalnut would be good baseline units for taking measurements of just how concise your story should be. (I imagine a reasonably compact story would be about 700 milliwalnuts.) The actual mathematics of converting story length to shell-filling volume, however, is still in development. Until that gets finished, you can use the walnut-peanut-pistachio continuum to give a rougher estimate of how to-the-point a story should be.

1 comment:

  1. From The Word Detective (

    "In a nutshell," as I'm sure you know, means "in a few words," or "very briefly explained." Nutshells, being the "hard exterior within which the kernel of a nut is enclosed" (to quote the Oxford English Dictionary), don't get very big since nuts themselves are generally fairly small. (There probably was a Jurassic Walnut or something way back when that could easily squish Des Moines, but that screenplay is yet to be written.) Nutshells themselves were first used as metaphors for something very small back in 1602, when Shakespeare had Hamlet declare, "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count my selfe a King of infinite space." Anything that could fit "in a nutshell" would have to be pretty darn small, and by the 18th century all the major writers were cramming things into nutshells.