avoidance of unnecessary words while conveying an idea
Brevity is the quality of being brief in duration.
- I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make sure they are still going.
- William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett, attributed in Robert Andrews, Famous Lines: a Columbia dictionary of familiar quotations (1997).
- Say what you have to say and the first time you come to a sentence with a grammatical ending--sit down.
- THIS DOCUMENT IS THE PROPERTY OF HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY'S GOVERNMENT - SECRET - 9 August 1940 - WAR CABINET - BREVITY. -
Memorandum by the Prime Minister.
To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.
I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.
(i) The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
(ii) If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
(iii) Often an occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
(iv) Let us have an end of such phrases as these, "It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations......", or "Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect......" Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.
Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.
10 Downing Street. 9th August 1940
- Winston Churchill Downing Street Memo, 9 August 1940
- It may be observed,
in a general way,
that life would be
If more of the people
with nothing to say
were able to say it
- Piet Hein, Mist and Moonshine: Grooks V (1973), p. 17
- Amplification is the vice of modern oratory. It is an insult to an assembly of reasonable men, disgusting and revolting instead of persuading. Speeches measured by the hour, die with the hour.
- Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
- Literally: I only made this [letter] longer because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.
- Translation: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
- Blaise Pascal, Provincial Letters: Letter XVI, 1657 (English Translation). Often misattributed to Mark Twain, as well as T.S. Eliot, Cicero, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and others.
- Brevity is the soul of wit.
- Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.
- Commonly attributed to Mark Twain, but not found in any collection of his writings.
- Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire.
- The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
- Voltaire, "Sixième discours: sur la nature de l'homme," Sept Discours en Vers sur l'Homme (1738).
- But let the wise be warned against too great readiness at explanation: it multiplies the sources of mistake, lengthening the sum for reckoners sure to go wrong.
- George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871).
- "Sie wissen, dass ich langsam schreibe, allein dies kommt hauptsächlich daher, weil ich mir nie anders gefallen kann, als wenn in kleinem Raum möglichst viel ist, und kurz zu schreiben viel mehr Zeit kostet als lang."
- Translation: You know that I write slowly. This is chiefly because I am never satisfied until I have said as much as possible in a few words, and writing briefly takes far more time than writing at length.
- Schreiben Gauß an Schumacher, Göttingen, 2. 4. 1833. In Christian August Friedrich Peters (Hrsg.): Briefwechsel zwischen C. F. Gauss und H. C. Schumacher Band 2, Gustav Esch, Altona 1860, S. 328