Writer’s on Writing : Ernest Hemmingway

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Daily Trivia: Ernest Hemingway

The phrase “grace under pressure” was coined by Ernest Hemingway. He used the phrase for the first time in 1926 in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two had met a year earlier in a Parisian bar called Dingo and they had begun a tumultuous, alcohol- and envy-fueled friendship, which Hemingway wrote about in his memoir A Moveable Feast (published posthumously in 1964).

Hemingway was a prolific correspondent, and he probably wrote six to seven thousand letters in his lifetime, perhaps because he was an informal letter writer who believed letters should never be written for posterity.

Write letters “for the day and the hour,” said Hemingway in a May 1950 letter to English professor and author Arthur Mizener. “Posterity will always look after herself.” In his letters, he regularly ignored apostrophes, rarely crossed a t or dotted an i.

And while he frequently boasted that he was a better speller than Fitzgerald, he almost always misspelled certain words, including apologize (apoligize), responsibility (responsability), and volume (volumne). He would also drop pronouns and common articles (an and the) from his letters (and sometimes even from conversation).

He might have been mimicking the language of cables and telegraphs, which he loved, but he also thought the shortened, abrupt style was manly and down-to-earth.

In this particular letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway gossips, talks about what he’s getting paid, offers facetious money advice, badmouths other writers, and asks Fitzgerald to read his new manuscript,The Sun Also Rises.

He uses the phrase “grace under pressure” to describe what he means when he uses the word “guts”:

“Was not referring to guts but to something else. Grace under pressure. Guts never made any money for anybody except violin string manufacturers.”