Cutting … cutting … cutting

Post by Lucy Metzger

Have you seen the Python sketch (episode 9) in which Michael Palin is a barber who is clearly disturbed and constantly almost on the point of stabbing his client, while trying to restrain himself? The client (Terry Jones) just wants a haircut.

Barber  You wouldn’t rather forget all about it?
Customer  No, no, no, I want it cut.Barber  Cut, cut, cut, blood, spurt, artery, murder, Hitchcock, Psycho … right sir … well …

Barber [later]  I’ve finished cutting … cutting … cutting your hair. It’s all done.

Because this leads into the Lumberjack Sketch, people tend not to remember the psychotic barber. But I do.
I mention this because I have an enthusiastic and perhaps unhealthy interest in cutting text. An early editorial gig of mine was in encyclopedias. I would be given an entry of perhaps 2,000 words, written by a specialist who just wanted to say everything about the topic, that I had to cut down to 200 words. I loved doing this.It wasn’t purely destructive: I liked the challenge of preserving the best and most interesting of the author’s offering while paring away the unnecessary. Destruction is fun, though. I like stripping wallpaper and breaking down old cupboards and chopping dead bits off trees. But there again, I’m getting rid of what I don’t want and leaving the good stuff.

An experienced colleague told me ‘You can cut anything by ten per cent’. (One time when I couldn’t sleep I tried to work out if you could go on doing this and have anything left. You approach zero pretty fast.) I tend to cut my own writing obsessively. You have no idea how long this post was before I posted it. Sometimes I feel I should just let myself write and leave it, but then I spot a word I don’t need … and another …

I bet YOU could cut this post by ten per cent.


Lucy Metzger is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, working mostly in teaching materials and academic and reference books, and a member of the Glasgow SfEP group. She is also the vice-chair of the SfEP.