Playing with numbers

Word count: 217 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence I read recently that I’d happily imitate. It shows how writers can have fun with numbers….

I’m pretty much allergic to math. I passed Math 12 only by promising to never take math ever again (and I thought that was a trick question.) Perhaps because of my own inadequacies I admire writers who can present numbers in interesting and engaging ways.

Here is a sentence that plays with numbers. It’s from the Pulitzer-prize-winning book The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

The census of 1860 said there were 2,670 slaves in Manchester County, but the census taker, a US marshal who feared God, had argued with his wife the day he sent his report to Washington, DC, and all his arithmetic was wrong because he had failed to carry a one. 

I like the way the sentence starts with a serious tone. You expect it to be a straightforward accounting of a serious subject. But then the vocabulary becomes super-simple and you reach the rewarding punchline. Someone forgot to carry a one!

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