Editorial: Brevity is the soul of wit

Ever since comedy writing was first attempted by the late-Renaissance peoples, there has been a saying said so often it has almost become cliché: “brevity is the soul of wit.” 

Of course, what that means is that the wittiest, funniest, and simply best writings are always short, quick, and to the point. It’s with that in mind that we, the editorial, opinion, and column staff at The Daily Inquisition, want to pledge to always abide by this principle and keep it in mind in all of our writings delivered to you, the valuable consumer. 

There’s a saying, we think it’s from Ben Franklin originally (but we’re not sure), that “I would’ve written you a shorter paper, but I ran out of time.” Indeed, it is easy to put a lot of words on a page. A long work, even a long comedy work, is way too facile! A short essay—one that makes a substantial impact on the reader in only a few words—is actually very difficult. 

Picture, if you can, a lengthy article—maybe in a newspaper or something—that just keeps going on and on for what seems like thousands of words. You might first think to yourself, “It is impressive that this writer could write so many words!” But, we at The Daily Inquisition assure you that this, in itself, is NOT impressive. In fact, continue to imagine the aforementioned scenario. You may begin to read the article, thinking “Wow, so many words must have something very important and witty to say!” You may be right even. Perhaps that article is important and has something very interesting to say. But we can guarantee it is not witty, because it is not brief, and brevity is, after all, the very soul of wit. 

In fact, we’d be willing to bet that in such a situation you would not even finish that lengthy article. Instead, you might skim it, or begin to read it and put it down, or even see the word count and give up before even trying. And we don’t blame you! Good writing should be punctual writing, and you would be justified in not wasting your time. 

But you will notice that such a situation does not arise in the publications of The Daily Inquisition. That is because we know what makes for good quality writing, and are committed every day to deliver that good quality writing right to the palm of your hand. 

We only hire the best, most concise and focused writers out there. Our editorial, opinion, columns, and main beat news staff consists of the top writers in their field, hand chosen from the already-elite pool of applicants we received upon opening. We gave all the job seekers various prompts, at least 3 of them, and prompted them to write an article based on those prompts. We received LOTS of good submissions, but if any were more than 75 words, we instantly threw them in the trash and tossed the author into the mud outside our door. And no, that’s not only because writing anything that requires a longer attention span than a premature puppy goes against Search Engine Optimization principles. It is also, maybe equally so, because such lengthy and obtuse discussions go against the very nature of wit and satire that we at The Daily Inquisition pride ourselves on. Sure, the SEO benefits are nice, and we credit such skillful brevity as the reason we’re listed all the way at the top of a Google Search’s 25th page. 

For example, we must call to mind a quote from one of history’s greatest writers, G.K. Chesterton. Despite his awful name of Gilbert Keith, he managed to become successful by shortening his name to G.K. In this alone he proves his authorial capabilities, for in his brevity he found success. But he also has another quote, worth quoting at length here, because it so perfectly sums up our philosophy here at The Daily Inquisition. It is as follows:

I suppose everyone must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one’s pocket; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long.

This is a rare glimpse into the mind of such a colossal figure. We see his discernment in discerning what kinds of writings to write, and his ultimate decision to scrap a project “because it would be too long.” That is to say, “brevity is the soul of wit, and since this work cannot be brief, it cannot be witty, and therefore cannot be worth writing.”

We often contrast that with this quote that we read on the internet. It goes something like this, only exactly like this: 

Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing. 

We have no real idea what this means, because to be honest it’s way too long. It is apparently from someone named Ursula K. Le Guin, who we’ve never heard of before. And you know why? Because she didn’t know how to write with brevity. 

If you are still not convinced that brevity is just the very essence of writing good, then there is this charming antidote from the much better writer, George Saunders. He says:

I write, “Jane came into the room and sat down on the blue couch,” read that, wince, cross out “came into the room” and “down” and “blue” (Why does she have to come into the room? Can someone sit UP on a couch? Why do we care if it’s blue?) and the sentence becomes “Jane sat on the couch–” and suddenly, it’s better (Hemingwayesque, even!), although… why is it meaningful for Jane to sit on a couch? Do we really need that? And soon we have arrived, simply, at “Jane”, which at least doesn’t suck, and has the virtue of brevity.

This quote says it all really in “the virtue of brevity.” Brevity, when it comes to writing at least, IS a virtue. So, we see in stark relief that brevity is very, very, very, VERY important!There is lots of controversy out there about what makes for good writing, and especially for good news as The Daily Inquisition claims to offer. That is why we, the editorial board and staff of The Daily Inquisition, want to make our position very, very clear to you, the reader, and anyone else who might be reading: we promise to consistently and directly provide reliably concise and briefly-authored pieces, which we believe is at the very center of good writing.