Brevity is one of the two most important attributes of effective technical and historical writing. (The other being clarity) These two components create a document that is capable of effective and efficient communication.

Where to begin? Don't get me started for I could go on and on but I best start somewhere…

So, the topic today is brevity. Hey, I’m all for that unless I get tanked up at my local watering hole and go on a wandering, senseless diatribe that has no beginning, no middle or no end. Of course, the person sitting next me, the one whose ear I’m bending, would do well to reach the same stage of inebriation that I’ve attained.

C’mon, we’ve all been there. Either you get to the bar or a party later than your colleagues and they’re three sheets to the wind by the time you get there and the topic is all over the map. All the while, you’re standing there with one ear on the conversation wondering just what the hell they’re talking about and chugging your drink of choice in a desperate effort to catch up. Sometimes it feels as if you're stranded all alone in right field while the world spins slowly around you.

Where was I?

Ah, yes, brevity.

Why don’t we take a look at the topic of brevity through the eyes and words of some of the scholars and sages that preceded us and our little quest.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Ok. First off , I’m no Shakespeare and I have a really hard time reading his stuff. I find it confusing with all the Old English and whatnot to find nary a sentence that seems readable. I know, I know, and I feel bad about it and everything but damn, didn’t they have those Cliffs Notes back in his day?

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books - what other men do not say in whole books.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Only one thing to say, the book is over 150 pages long. If you ask me, that’s an awful lot of long sentences. Besides, I think one can get a hernia lugging around Nietzsche’s body of work.

My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know the right moment to stop.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Thanks for the history lesson and the stroll down memory lane Wolfgang but wouldn’t it have been easier just to say “there’s an old saying in my family…”

>A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style, 1918

Well, I have to give Mr. Strunk his due because his work clocks in at a meager forty three or so pages but he probably could have left off the allegorical reference to the machine and unnecessary parts.

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
Dorothy Parker

Leave it to a woman to cut to the chase and sum up all those loose ends and wrap them up in a nice little ball, thanks Dot.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that there's a time and place for everything. Even the so-called experts I cited above seem to not practice what they preach all of the time. Who are we to argue?

I came in at just about six hundred words or so.

Need I say more?

Brev"i*ty (?), n.; pl. Brevities (#). [L. brevitas, fr. brevis short: cf. F. brievit'e. See Brief.]

1.

Shortness of duration; briefness of time; as, the brevity of human life.

2.

Contraction into few words; conciseness.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Shak.

This argument is stated by St. John with his usual elegant brevity and simplicity. Bp. Porteus.

Syn. -- Shortness; conciseness; succinctness; terseness.

 

© Webster 1913.

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