At 46, William Edward Vaughan, a floor-pacing, pipe-cleaning, book-thumbing, paper-clip-twiddling fidgeter, is already something of an anachronism. Vaughan writes "paragraphs" for the Kansas City, Mo.. Star (circ. 337,482); he practices a journalistic style so obscure that no one knows who invented it. So rare is the professional paragrapher that Vaughan is occasionally credited with being the last of the breed. He is not. But he is probably the best of a tiny handful of newsmenamong them the Cowles papers' Fletcher Knebel and Hearst's Bugs Baerwho still work at the art of polishing a line or two of type until it gleams.
The paragraph as composed by Vaughan is not to be confused with the paragraph as defined by grammarians. Sometimes Vaughan's product is no more than a sentence, and seldom does it exceed two. When successful, it is a marvel of compression, laced with wisdom or wit. "The paragraph is an uncompromising medium," says Vaughan. "In 25 or 30 words you have to say something wise or funny, with no chance to pad it out or conceal the lack of point. Also, the paragraph presupposes some information on the part of the reader. The paragrapher can't explain what he's talking about or he has drowned his effect." Paragrapher Vaughan does not often drown his effect. Samples:
> "Frankly, the feeling of the adult contingent in the second house from the corner is that, instead of taking down the Christmas decorations, it will be easier to move."
> "Two saloons side by side give Cousin Fuseloyle a chance to cooperate with the physical fitness program by working out with parallel bars."
> "The painter of abstract art is well advised to price his works at some figure, such as 66 dollars, which increases in value when hung upside down."
> "An enclave, geography students, is a small foreign territory completely surrounded by trouble."
> "I am not an extreme rightist," Walter Tippy shouted at a late-evening political discussion. "But I am extremely right."
Cost of Living. One of the first paragraphers on record was a Louisville, Ky., editor named George D. Prentice. In the mid-19th century Prentice honed his paragraphs into needles to puncture rival editors. In his hands and others, the paragraph took on the quality of wit and humor that characterize it still. One of the best of the later breed was the Indianapolis' News's late, famed Frank McKinney ("Kin") Hubbard, who, as Abe Martin, turned out paragraphs by the thousands. "I think some folks are foolish." wrote Kin Hubbard. "to pay what it costs to live."