Brevity: A virtue
From English Composition and RhetoricAlexander Bain.
You're sillier. (than I am silly)
Figures of speech all contribute to a greater effectiveness of style. They either present a thought more vividly to the intellect, or operate more powerfully upon the feelings.Brevity has the same object in view as figures. It concerns the number of words used, on the principle of
attaining the desired end at the smallest cost.
I. Brevity is a virtue of language
Every word uttered taxes the attention and occupies a space in the thoughts. Therefore, when words are used only as instruments, they should be compressed into the smallest compass consistent with the adequate expression of the meaning.
“Veni, vide, vici.” —Caesar (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”)
II. Sources of brevity
A. Selection of the most apt words
For the selection of words no precise rules can be given. The effect, on trial, will show what answers the purpose of conveying much meaning in a small compass.
B. Condensed grammatical structure
There are certain constructions favorable to brevity. Try using
1. a participle instead of a clause with a finite verb;
Prepared students do well on tests.
(rather than, Students should prepare themselves to do well on tests.)
2. apposition instead of connectives;
Constance, president of the club, ordered pizza for everyone.
(rather than, Constance is the president of the club, and she ordered pizza for everyone.)
3. adjectives for adjective clauses;
Organic strawberries are expensive.
(rather than, Strawberries that are grown organically are expensive.)
“The might of the strongest is undisputed.”
4. The phrase made up of preposition and noun, with or without an adjective
5. The contracted and the condensed sentence.
That's the craziest thing I've ever heard.
You're sillier. (than I am silly)
C. Use of figures
Use of some kinds of figurative speech may contribute to brevity.
Pitt’s defense of the rotten burgh system was,
“Their amputation would be death” (to the country).
Curran’s saying on Irish liberty is equally terse:
“I sat at her cradle, I followed her hearse.”
The proverb, or aphorism, is a condensed expression of a truth, generally embodying an epigram, or a balanced structure:
“Least said, soonest mended.”
III. Brevity has to be sought without sacrificing meaning or intent.
There are occasions when the desired effects of style are gained by diffuseness. For example, an explanation must be suited in length to the state of mind of the persons addressed, while things well known are recalled by brief allusion. In working up the feelings, a certain length of time is requisite, which the orator and poet know how to adjust. Again, in suiting the sound to the sense, a polysyllabic word, or a lengthened clause, may be required. Thus the long word stupendous better corresponds with a state of intense astonishment than the monosyllable vast; magnificent is more powerful than grand. The high sounding word ambassador suits a dignified functionary; while we often express contempt by a curt appellation, as a flirt, a fop, a sot, a thief, bosh.
It is a general rule that an excess of the connecting parts of speech—as pronouns and conjunctions—enfeebles the style. Yet emphasis sometimes requires their multiplication, as in the words Milton:
“Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom or summer's rose,
Or flocks or herds, or human face divine.”