snoopy dark and stormy night

Your writing may not be as bad as you think. Maybe you’re being ironic.

In a modern age driven to rank everything around us and enamored of “Top 10” lists, isn’t identification of “the worst” a breath of fresh air?

That’s what I thought when I opened an Economist article slugged “The World’s Worst Sentence.”

On this Change of Venue Friday, I suggest you read this rant-ish essay that takes to task the writer Philip Mirowski and his new book “Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste.”

I know you’re eager to start your weekend, so let me give you the sentence right up top:

“Yet the nightmare cast its shroud in the guise of a contagion of a deer-in-the-headlights paralysis.”

The brave but pitiless commentator pulls no punches as he writes, “That is not just a mixed metaphor; it is meaningless and pretentious at the same time.”


To be constructive, the writer points us to George Orwell’s six rules for writing (actually, five rules and a lecture) from a 1946 essay. But I doubt that made Mr. Mirowski feel any better (or, as he would likely put it, “any more salubrious”).

The examples provided by The Economist are indeed frown-inducing. But as someone who has edited publications for years, I’m not sure I’d agree with “the worst” moniker. I will not throw any authors under the bus today, though!

Instead, I point you to those folks who have great fun writing bad prose. I mean, of course, the annual Bulwer Lytton contest, made famous by the “dark and stormy night” author.

As the organizers gamely describe on their website, “WWW means Wretched Writers Welcome.” And as they say, “Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

(Read more from their hilarious “About” page here.)

But we all signed on for bad writing today, so let’s get to some examples.

This year’s Bulwer Lytton overall “best in being worst” award went to Chris Wieloch of Brookfield, Wis.:

“She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.”

And here’s another that made me smile. It’s the runner-up in the Adventure category, written by Ron D. Smith of Louisville, Ky.:

“As the sun dropped below the horizon, the safari guide confirmed the approaching cape buffaloes were herbivores, which calmed everyone in the group, except for Herb, of course.”

Read all the winners (that you can stomach) here. And have a good weekend. (Or, alternatively: May you stride into a surfeit of pleasures surpassed only by the simmering indulgences of kings, potentates and celebrities, borne aloft by the manicured hands of minions, the sirocco of gilded good fortune, and the unalterable recognition of their own immortality and deserving nature.)