Brevity=Wit Entry #10

January 25th, 2010 by Wordsman

As I write this, I find myself thinking about sports.  At any given moment, people all across the country are eagerly anticipating some big game somewhere.  It seems to me sometimes that the world of professional sports spectating is defined by waiting.  You have to wait during commercial breaks.  You have to wait during timeouts.  You have to wait during pitching changes.  And, from hockey rinks to baseball stadiums to football fields, before anything can even get started, you have to wait through someone singing our national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.  And when you’ve been thinking all week long about that first pitch, jump ball, or kickoff, it can feel like our friend Francis Scott Key wrote not just a song but an entire opera.

To be fair, the duration of the anthem is not entirely the fault of its author.  Let’s not forget the performers, those people who (if they bothered to learn the lyrics) can put eighteen or more syllables into the word “free.”  But I thought that it couldn’t hurt to take a look at the text and see if I couldn’t cut it down to a more reasonable length, for the sake of all those impatient sports fans out there.  My first attempt looked something like this:

“O, say can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars

Sure, it’s shorter, but it’s also just about incomprehensible.  All I get is that we’re supposed to be looking at something with stripes and stars.  That could be anything: a tiger eating Lucky Charms, a zebra who was rewarded by his elementary school teacher for doing well on his homework, or a group of Hollywood party animals who got too rowdy and had to be sent off to prison.  Clearly, it takes more than twilight’s last gleaming to shed some light on this mess.

Now, you could argue that many people don’t know what the song is really about even in its full version, but I like to strive for clarity.  So here is the comprehensive abridged anthem:

“Look at that flag with the stripes and the stars.  You can see it by the gunfire.  Up there on the ramparts with those free and brave folks.”

There you go: you’ve got the flag, the stripes, the stars, the ramparts, the free and the brave, all the fun stuff.  Plus you don’t have to spend nearly as long on your feet before you get to sit down and enjoy the game.  And you know, it wouldn’t have to just be for sports.  Now that I think about it, I see no reason why you couldn’t replace the interminable full version of our national anthem with this baby (let’s call it “Starry Flag”) whenever you want.  Why, even in the most formal situations . . . what?  He actually wrote three more verses to this song?  Oh, come on, Key.  No wonder the British locked him up.  They must have been sports fans.

Posted in Brevity=Wit | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. Gramma F Says:

    The paragraph about what we are supposed to be looking at is great!

  2. Gramma F Says:

    I wondered if you knew the tune is from a drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” This may explain the music, if not the lyrics.

  3. Wordsman Says:

    I did know that, but only because I was looking at the Wikipedia article as I was writing the entry.

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