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I love being a college professor. But I hate reading student papers. Hate it.

Like too many men, college students believe that size matters. Students rely on Word’s word count to predict their grade. More words = better grade. 

Embellishment is so bad that one of my colleagues uses “BS” rubber stamps of varying sizes to identify unadulterated fluff. Sadly, students think it’s cool to have a paper stamped with “BS.”

In many literary forms, embellishment might enrich a piece; but less is better when writing humor. A joke is not a short story. It’s a micro-story—often a single-sentence tale—told in as few words as possible. 

Beginning writers tend to fluff up a joke with needless words, while professionals always rewrite jokes to remove unnecessary words, especially in the punch line. Typically, there’s an inverse relationship between funny and word count. The following Mitch Hedberg joke is a classic example of high-impact shrinkage. 

I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it. 

There may be a time and place for fluffing, but not when constructing funny. A great joke may be BS, but it won’t have BS. And that ain’t BS. 

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