Six-word stories for geeks

Extreme brevity in use in language

There is something about extreme brevity in the use of language that appeals to me. I suspect it comes from decades of fighting with command line interfaces of computer systems. How can I get this infernal machine to do complicated stuff using just a small number of commands? Anyone who keeps that question in their head for enough years becomes attracted to the arts of extreme brevity in language.

From time to time, a meme breaks out in which extreme brevity techniques are used to summarize well-known books and films or to create a yet-to-be-created book/film in a few words. Some years ago, I remember reading this great example which captures the magnum opus known as the Lord of the Rings in just 11 words:

"Short guy throws magic ring into volcano. Local lay-about becomes king."

In the last while, the concept of a six-word story has caught a wave. Create a short story using exactly six words. It is hard to beat Ernest Hemingway's fantastic: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn". Eileen Gunn has written a nice geek-centric one that I quite like: " Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?".

Eileen's six-word story got me thinking about taking our interactions with computer systems and using them to tell a story of sorts. I have thought of three so far. The first is entitled "Existential Angst Of a Sys Admin" and it goes likes this:

who am I
rm -rf ~/*

The commands will run on most Unix machines but I would not advise it.

The second is not directly executable as it involves working with a possibly graphical application interface. It is entitled "Ode to writer's block" and it goes like this:

Edit. File Exit. Abandon Changes. Repeat.

My final contribution is entitled "Becoming a father changes everything" and it goes like this:

mv my_stuff /my_family/dads_stuff

No foray into the world of geeky brevity would be complete without referencing the phenomenon of Perl Poetry. I have purloined a personal favorite from that genre and edited it to suit my purposes to end this week's article. The piece is entitled "Jet lagged article writer" and it goes like this:

think, write, think,
do review (each word) if time.
close article. sleep? what's that?

Sean McGrath is CTO of Propylon. He is an internationally acknowledged authority on XML and related standards. He served as an invited expert to the W3C's Expert Group that defined XML in 1998. He is the author of three books on markup languages published by Prentice Hall. Visit his site at:

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Sean McGrath

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