Brevity is next to godliness. There is tremendous power in making your case with the fewest – but best chosen – words possible.

“Nobody has ever said of any presentation: it was great but too short.”

So wrote Sathnam Sanghera (author of the excellent Empireland) in a 2006 FT article entitled Why brevity is always best. Even then, brevity was something of a delicious luxury. Sanghera offers a compelling theory for the modern scarcity of brevity:

“In short, people can’t be bothered with the effort of editing. In a world where length is the easy option, where, with a click, you can copy thousands of words into a document from the internet, conciseness is to be encouraged. And nowhere is brevity more important than in relation to language – both spoken and written. William Strunk Jr put it best in The Elements of Style (1918): ‘Vigorous writing is concise.'”

With Sanghera’s words in mind, I offer here two quotations on the virtue of self-editing (and thereby of brevity) that I have recently chanced upon.

The first is from Voltaire:*

“The quickest way of boring people is to say too much.”


The second is from Miles Davis:**

“I always listen to what I can leave out.”


What can you leave out today?

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.



* I clipped this quotation from Voltaire (author of Candide) a newspaper 15 or so years ago. I then had the idea to hide it between some books on a high shelf. This means that I forget about these words for years on end. I am then delighted when this clipping flutters down on the rare occasions I disturb that shelf’s dusty peace.

** I came across this Miles Davis quotation via the August 2022 edition of Andrew Eberlin’s lovely Twitter newsletter. You can subscribe to Andrew’s newsletter via his Twitter page. And why not also give him a follow while you’re there? Speaking of leaving things out, Miles could be a gent of few words (and if you have ever read Miles: The Autobiography, a fair few of those words were “motherfucker”). His music could also be spare in the most perfect way possible. For an ideal example, look no further than So What, from his immortal album Kind of Blue.


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