Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tweeting and a history of brevity

Ryan Bigge in The Smart Set:

By the early 17th century, Shakespeare was praising short and snappy punchlines in Hamlet. Later that century, Japanese poet Matsuo Basho became a haiku master thanks to his immortal frog-pond-splash trifecta. By the 20th century, the telegraph made it possible to send your thoughts around the world, but curtness was an economic imperative since you were charged per word. The modern equivalent of the telegraph, thumb-intensive cellphone SMS (text messaging) also makes pithy thoughts a necessity. And overdiscussed Twitter imposes a 140-character limit on your genius, which works out to 20 or 30 words, depending on the sophistication of your vocabulary.


The concision of telegrams created poetry and wit born of economy. "STREETS FULL OF WATER. PLEASE ADVISE," is what humorist Robert Benchley sent his editor at The New Yorker upon arriving in Venice for the first time.

The entire article is available by clicking here.


Rosaria Williams said...

This is timely and important to remember.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

"Streets full of water. Please Advise"...LOL...this is priceless!!! Love this've nailed this one!!! Bravo!

sujata sengupta said...

Being pithy is not a bad thing, but I hate what modern day texting and twitter is doing to the spellings..can never get myself to write need as nd !!

Kavi said...

Or Thanks as Tx !
Or Girl Friend as grlfrnd !

And there is still a lot more that can get done in 140 characters !!


Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

The telegram story reminded me of that famous telegram that was sent when the British captured Sind in 1840: "Peccavi" (I have sinned)

Also in response to the other Sujata's comment about Twitter, check out Arjunbasu's micro-fiction, all of 140 characters long, with nary a nd.

Nino's Mum said...

Brevity is a virtue (one that I sorely lack), however, sms language is a nightmare. You won't belive how many young journalists today are sending me copy in text language. I want to line them up and make them do squats the old-school way till they get it right.

Sujatha Bagal said...

@ Janine, I wish I could take the credit for the article, but alas! The honor belongs to Ryan Bigge, whose article I linked to.

@ BPSK, welcome back! And thanks for Basu's link. Will check it out!

@ NM, that'll be a sight! Please do record it and blog about it! Heee. :)

Frankie Anon said...

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole. Its body brevity. And wit its soul. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

And even that's too long for a tweet. I despise Twitter and just don't get the fascination of it all. Of course, anyone who reads my blog knows that brevity is not my long suit!