Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simplifying speech

“I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one.” - Blaise Pascal

Recently, I decided to reduce my use of the following words, along with others that aren't coming to mind.
  • very
  • like
  • really
  • extremely
  • incredibly
The reason? I believe my overuse of emphatic adverbs decreases the emphasis. "I really enjoy that painting" imparts less meaning than "I enjoy that painting." Even though I've said that I really enjoy the painting, I believe it sounds as though I don't enjoy it as much as if I omitted really. "That dress is very beautiful" doesn't mean as much as "that dress is beautiful." I believe overuse of emphasizers also decreases memorability. When I think of the most persuasive people I know, they tend to speak simply and focus on a few concepts, instead of giving lower emphasis to more concepts. Their focus drives home a clear message - something to remember the conversation and the topic by.

There's a few other words I'm trying to say less often:
  • thing
  • stuff
These words require more mental engagement of the reader or listener. "Would you bring those things over here?" (and pointing) requires the listener to determine the meaning, whereas "would you bring the plate and glass over here?" puts the burden for my request on the speaker. Even when the noun is obvious to speaker and listener, replacing the noun with "stuff" or "thing" frees the listener from determine the speaker's meaning.

Twitter has trained me to be more precise in my statements. The Twitter service, with its limit of 140 characters, pushes users to retype their tweets to impart maximal meaning in finite space.

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