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September 06, 2013

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit?

This famous line from Shakespeare's Hamlet is well-known for a variety of reasons. For one, Hamlet is full of phrases that have become commonly used, another reason this particular phrase has caught on is that we all tend to appreciate...

...a short, clear and concise message.

As several writers have noted, it is far easier to write (or speak) a longer, unfocused rambling piece than to have a clear and coherent, perhaps even simple statement.

As always, though, there is more to Shakespeare than a simple phrase.

This particular line is from Act 2, Scene 2. The speaker is Polonius, a pompous, smug lord who is renowned for his sense of self-importance. His lines are consistently rambling and self-justifying.

And this scene is no exception. Polonius tells us (and makes us long for) the glories or clear and simple expression. But Polonius (perhaps like every arrogant person) does not follow his own advice.

Here's the full text;

This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulatehttp://www.esl-lesson-plan.com/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=728&blog_id=1&saved_changes=1#
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

Does this look like 'brevity' to you?

Brevity is great - but do it; don't urge others to do it.

For some tips on keeping your writing shorter - and clearer (and perhaps even easier to put together), check out this article - http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/08/14/the-secrets-of-how-to-write-short/.

Send me any language usages or writing strategies that you find useful, and be sure to let me know what it is about language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

Morf

Posted by mmorf at September 6, 2013 07:12 PM

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