For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Written By Hemingway

So the big news yesterday was this story how, believe it or not, the famous six-word story was not, in fact, written by Ernest Hemingway. This comes a day after George Saunders, on The Colbert Report, talked about this famous bit of tiny literature. Am I surprised that Hemingway has been outed as not being the true author? Not at all. I mean, I basically said the same thing in my introduction to the Hint Fiction anthology two years ago:

Although Ernest Hemingway is credited for creating the first "six-word story," some believe the story of its creation is a myth. The truth is there is no written account of those six words anywhere. They are, as one Hemingway scholar puts it, apocryphal.

What surprises me, really, is that it took this long for someone to do the research to put this mystery to rest. From what my editor at Norton had told me, who heard it from a Hemingway scholar, the question of whether or not Hemingway truly wrote the story is one of the most frequently asked questions about the author. So it's a bit odd that, after all this time, someone just finally figured it out. Also, based on the article -- really, it's a good read, check it out -- it seems that a similar phrase regarding a baby carriage had been circulating for quite some time. From 1906, an advertisement in the newspaper:

For sale, baby carriage; never been used. Apply at this office.

So there's the chance that Hemingway happened to see this ad, then decided to turn it into a story. If that's the case, he basically plagiarized. Then again, there's a chance he never actually "told" the six-word story upon which he's been credited all this time. It is still, and probably will forever be, a myth.

I will say, though, as I've said before, I believe what has made this six-word story endure as long as it has is not only its simplistic greatness, but its association with Hemingway. If it had been written by Joe Schmo, maybe it would have faded away and made people care less about it. But Hemingway, being the master storyteller that he was, gave the six-word story much more credibility. Could I be wrong? Perhaps. But in some literary circles, what matters more is the name of the author, rather than the actual story.

Anyway, regardless who actually authored the story, those six words have inspired writers for many, many years, and in the end, I think that's what matters most.