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Chet Raymo, “tl;dr”

Thursday, February 16, 2017 18:35
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by Chet Raymo

“When I was invited to write a weekly column for the Boston Globe (the original Science Musings) those many years ago, I thought it took at least a thousand words to say anything that anyone would want to read. A gripping lead. Statement of theme. Development of theme. Recapitulation of theme and catchy exit. A thousand words were about right. I was paid by the column, not the word count. As the years passed, I learned that brevity is the soul of wit, and the column slowly shrank. 900 words. 800. After all, he who coined the phrase stands as the greatest wit of all:

“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.”

So away with those outward flourishes. 700. 600? After twenty years and a thousand essays, the Globe column was in danger of shrinking away to nothing. Then to the internet, where the pressure toward brevity is relentless. tl;dr. 

“Too long; didn’t read.”
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will limit myself to 140 characters.

Thank you, Lord Polonious. We need not nuance, nor context. My noble son is mad. I get it. Let me retweet that. #progeny. My noble son is mad. So what is the ideal length for a post in the blogosphere? Nuance and context vs. tl;dr? I seem to have settled in at around 300-400 words, somewhere between prolixity and a tweet.”


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