Leading article: Brevity as the soul of wit – and the shorter, the better

Sunday 30 October 2011 23:47

If not now, when? Those four words were the entire speech by Charles Walker (Conservative, Broxbourne) in the Europe debate. It took him just three seconds. That was considerably more terse, taut, curt, clipped and pithy than the speech Salvador Dali claimed as the world's shortest. "I will be so brief I have already finished," he said and sat down.

"If not now, when?"was originally coined by the Babylonian rabbi, Hillel the Elder. He meant something more profound than a call to European rebellion. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, he also said, that being the whole of the Law and the rest just explanation. But brevity can belie. The shortest words – Yes and No – are the words which require most thought, said Pythagoras. Though this be madness, yet there is method in't. Or as Woody Allen put it in a nutshell: 80 per cent of success is showing up.

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