Do Not Attempt to Adjust Your Monitor

October 5th, 2009 by Wordsman

Given my continued inability to post pictures, it seems somewhat pedantic of me to continue stubbornly posting stories and asking for your patience.  I have therefore decided to put the “Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?” project on a temporary (and, from the point of view of anyone closely following the story, poorly timed) hiatus.  Instead this week I present to you another project I have been tinkering with, titled “Brevity=Wit.”

The definition of brevity has changed a lot over the years.  Especially these days, due to the popularity of text messaging and a certain web application, it seems like anything that takes more than two seconds to think up and three seconds to type just isn’t worth writing.  It makes me wonder, however, how the great writers and speakers of the past would have fared if they were subjected to the same harsh 140-character limit that we are.

Today, let us consider the Gettysburg Address.

Given on November 19, 1863, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was considered famous for its brevity.  Preceded by Edward Everett, who gave a speech of two hours and over 13,000 words, Lincoln went up and spoke for approximately two minutes.  Legend has it that Lincoln’s speech was so unexpectedly short that the photographers did not have enough time to get their equipment set up to take pictures of him.

Nowadays, of course, the Gettysburg Address seems almost ridiculously long.  Lincoln’s speech contained well over 1000 characters, if you can believe that.  If he had been cut off at the more reasonable length of 140 characters, the speech would have gone something like this:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the prop”

All Lincoln has time for is a brief history lesson, which he cannot even finish.  “Upon this continent?”  Well, duh.  Where did they think America was founded?  South America?  “Dedicated to the prop?”  What’s he talking about?  The Wright brothers wouldn’t make their famous flight for another forty years.

Now, if I was a speechwriter for Abraham Lincoln, knowing the extremely limited capacity of the modern attention span, I might have suggested he say something more like this:

“87 years ago our fathers made a free nation.  Now we’re at war, and men died here for it.  I can’t say anything greater than what they gave.”

See?  Short and simple.  Fits easily within any standard character limit, takes about ten seconds to say.  Plus you don’t have to waste any of your precious brain power trying to remember that a score is twenty.

Of course, if Lincoln was giving his speech today, taking enough time for the photographers wouldn’t be a problem no matter how quickly he went.  They’d simply snap one of him with their phones and then go back to texting their friends:

“OMG! cant believe prez is talking for 2 whole minutes! i cant wait to get outa here”

Not exactly what you might call the last full measure of devotion.

Posted in Brevity=Wit | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. A Fan Says:

    Love it. (I’d say more, but it would be contrary to the spirit of the experiemtn>0

  2. A Fan Says:


  3. Gramma F Says:

    And then there are those pesky Ten Commandments – of course some do get left out already.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.