Enough IS Enough

It was business communication a long time ago. We were talking about how conventional composition — rhetoric and writing — classes teach students to write more words and then in Bus Comm I’m there saying, “It’s wordy.” I remember actually saying, “In business you write for people. In rhetoric and writing you write for teachers.” I said that. Yep. And I said, “In a writing class people are paid to read your writing. In real life, people aren’t. Don’t waste their time.”

The students were shocked. “Time is money, right, professor?”

“That’s the idea. Write clearly and concisely so even people who don’t want to read what you’ve written will get the point.”

Somehow, no idea how, we got off on Thoreau and “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” They’d all read it, so it was a common point and an example of wordiness (for business writing, anyway). In there, in the midst of Thoreau’s convoluted, complicated sentences, in his complex, descriptive enumeration, his rhapsodic litany of how people complicate their lives he wrote, “Simplify! Simplify!”

Kid in the very back corner, football player, spoke up. “I get it teach. One ‘simplify’ would have done!”



9 thoughts on “Enough IS Enough

  1. You know Martha, I realise how much I missed in school over literature and the english languge altogether. I just wish I had paid more attention, but my background was working class and the word “literature” did not really exist, just “Book” and “library” thank goodness. Mr. Swiss is an expert at german literature, never a teacher, but one of the chosen few that sees into its depths, and I have a lot to thank him for. Opening my eyes to a few things. It is now too late for me to catch up as here there are only courses for German literature.

    • I don’t know — literature was my life for a long time, then figuring out how to teach kids to write was my life, and now writing is my life. I thought literature was SO important and maybe it is/was. I guess I wouldn’t be me now without having been me then. Many literature people are just way too serious about it. That got very annoying. 🙂

      • Literature to dyed-in-the-wool ‘literati’ cannot be fun. It must be deeply obscure and heavy with verbose complexity. Pretending to understand it makes them feel superior. (Not that I’m cynical or anything)

        • No, not at all cynical. What I hated was the critical study of criticism. Pardon my vulgarity, but that came across to me as a Kama Sutra of Masturbation.

  2. Technical writing is a long journey into learning to NOT need modifiers. Unless you are describing something specific (press the RED button) … clarity and brevity rule. Of course some of those clear, brief books were multi-volume and thousands of pages long, but within the limits of the complexity of the product, they were as brief as possible. Brevity and simplicity are, after all, relative 🙂

    • It was difficult to get that through my students’ heads that concise did not necessarily mean short. I mean, could the OED be any shorter? 🙂

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