How many words did H.L. Mencken write?

Media criticism.
Jan. 1 2006 4:36 PM

Mencken's Millions

Exactly how many words did the Sage of Baltimore write?

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"What the total of my published writings comes to I don't know precisely," Mencken said in 1948, "but certainly it must run well beyond 5,000,000 words." While he liked to throw around numbers with lots of zeroes, this one seems more plausible than most. …

If the 5 million figure is accurate, Mencken averaged 100,000 words a year for 50 years, or about 2,000 words a week.

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Is 100,000 words a year anything to brag about? Many journalists write more than 100,000 words a year, including me in 2005. (Note to Nexis jockeys: For reasons beyond my control, Nexis doesn't include all of my Slate columns from last year. I also took a month of paternity leave.)

What makes Mencken's accomplishment memorable is not that he averaged 2,000 words a week, or even that he did it for 50 years, but that he produced brilliant copy in nearly every outing. His final word count would surely have been greater—if not 70 million—had he not also simultaneously edited publications for several decades.

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Nobody who wrote better than Mencken wrote faster, and nobody who wrote faster wrote better. Except for maybe A.J. Liebling. Write well and write fast to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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