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OnWords: Listicle


The listicle is familiar to all readers of Buzzfeed and HuffPo, as well as to the denizens of Cracked and a zillion other online venues.

“Listicle” is a portmanteau word that refers to an article in the form of a list, or, at times, a list that takes the place of an article. Listicles are made up of what we used to call topic sentences back when people used paragraphs. These are followed by a sentence or two accompanied by a funny picture or an animated GIF meant to illustrate the idea.

The prose stylist in me is appalled by listicles, but all the other parts love their digestibility and, of course, the fact that they often include hilarious pictures of angry cats.

And for as much as I love the paragraph in all its fullness and artistry, I have to admit that the list has its own, noble tradition.

The bible is full of lists—and from one of those my parents chose my given name. Homer made great use of lists, as did Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, as well as the English poet Christopher Smart.

The listicle draws on the implied logic created by a linear set of juxtapositions. It allows its writer to jettison the expressed connections of a full essay and get right to the important points.

One can only imagine what Walt Whitman could have done given access to a whole internet full of angry cats.