Brevity is the soul of wit


Shakespeare coined this phrase among many others in his epic tragedy, Hamlet.  In the scene, Lord Polonius must carefully inform the King that his son, Prince Hamlet, is insane.  In this situation, Polonius’ apologetic statement is correct, being brief and to the point is sometimes the best path to take when painful news must be delivered.  Even though Shakespeare wrote many masterpieces, and some far from brief, the concept that brevity is the soul of wit still rings true, over 500 years later.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief: your noble son is mad. ~ Lord Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The dictionary defines brevity as the use of a few words to say something, while it defines wit as the natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence.

Can an individual who’s words are few demonstrate intelligence and perception?  I believe so – and this is from a blogger, who is graded for the abundance of words.

Intelligence lies in one’s ability to express the complicated in simple and brief terms.  At one time, I was an instructor of electrical theory, a complicated subject.  My students were training to be operators of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion systems.  My role was to communicate the abstract concepts of electrical theory in a manner that could be readily grasped by these talented, pre-college students.  I strove to present each lesson in a simple form.  Brevity and simplicity were essential.

Directness is also necessary.  As Polonius realized, flowery language and ‘beating around the bush’  is not the most effective means of communication.  Directness displays confidence and allows a quickness of perception, an element of wit.   If someone can explain a complex problem is simple terms, then understanding can be enhanced.

Thus I leave my readers on this point, and subscribe to my own advice, that brevity is the soul of wit.

In what areas can you be brief and yet have a strong impact?

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About John Forrest