Literature

Ernest Hemingway and an Icelandic short story

Famously, Ernest Hemingway wrote a complete story in six words. Here, I present that same story in just four. In Icelandic

'Papa'. A photograph of Ernest Hemingway from 1918, a few years before he took the nickname

When in his twenties, before his hair whitened and his beard grew bushy, Ernest Hemingway made a wager. Ten dollars, he bet his friends, ten dollars he could write a complete story in just six words. They agreed. Hemingway wrote the story. They paid up.

In those six words Hemingway created something beautiful, something profoundly sad. The story never fails to move me, often in some way different to the last. It’s a supreme short story and an elegant argument for conciseness. And the words themselves?

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Six words. Six words. Hemingway claimed it as his greatest work. I can do better than that.

Stories in brief

While idling in armchairs one dark Reykjavik afternoon, Brian, Ásta, Simon, and I were chatting about Hemingway’s story. How, we wondered, would it sound in Icelandic?

Incomprehensible, was the answer, as with most Icelandic. But, more importantly, it was shorter.

Six words, Hemingway? Six words? Too verbose. You’re an embarrassment to literature. Cut the chaff from your endless waffle. Dash your pen against the wall. Read, instead, the greatest of all short stories:

Ónotaðir barnaskór til sölu.