How to Keep it Short and Tweet

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I just did something that I thought I would never do – I joined Twitter! Now I, along with millions of others, can add my two cents worth to the conversation (which is really nothing considering the status of the now-defunct penny in Canada).

Actually my writing coach felt it was important to join, so my potential readers could get to know me better. So here I am, social media. I’m an open book…er, I mean, tweet.

Actually Twitter might be a good fit for me with its 140 character limitation. After all, I was known as the “slash and burn” English teacher. “Too wordy, very flowery, repetitive, get to the point, blah,blah,blah” (sometimes I wasn’t very nice) were phrases I often scribbled in red ink across the pages of student essays.

Thomas Jefferson might have said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of using two words when one will do.” But try telling that to a 16 year old, grade 11 student who is focused solely on providing 500 words (exactly that and no more) to his fussy teacher. When every word brought such a student closer to completion, there was a tendency to repeat ideas several times over, just to get the assignment out of the way. (I often had essays submitted where I could still see the word count pencilled in. Obviously the rough copy and the final draft were one and the same.)

But it’s not only English teachers who expound the virtues of using a few, precise words to make a point. Albert Einstein quipped, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” And Martin Luther advised, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.”

With the purpose of having my students become more succinct and exact when writing, I often had them write a precis of a longer selection. I wanted them to see the value and effectiveness of using fewer, more suitable words.

If you don’t think this was a valuable exercise, consider some of the most famous quotes in history. Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered”, carries much more weight and authority than, “I arrived on the scene, I assessed the situation, and I proceeded to wage a victorious campaign.”

What if JFK had pronounced, “Don’t go around inquiring what benefits you might gain from the government, instead, step forward and offer any assistance that you might provide to your country.”? It doesn’t carry quite the same punch as, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

We are constantly reminded to get to the point, cut to the chase, and quit beating around the bush. Shakespeare said it best in Hamlet, when he penned, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” So in the interests of wittiness and shortness, I’m out of here! See you on Twitter!

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