Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 3 of 10)

Aphorisms flow from ancient writings. For example, we read them in the book of Proverbs and hear them quoted by public speakers. The ancients focused on graffiti-length tidbits. Their readers were poorly educated, so to help them remember, they wrote succinctly.

Thus, they tried to pack wisdom into terse statements and make a sharp point—something we need to keep in mind for contemporary readers.

Brevity also works today but for different reasons. We’re better educated, and somewhere I read that we have an 85 percent world literary rate. Despite that, our need for insights is as urgent as ever. We’re too busy, too pre-occupied, and too tired to read five paragraphs to extract a single sentence.

More than 100 years ago, T.S. Eliot said that we’re “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

We have so much information available that the meaning seems flattened into mere information. Internet experts have shrunken cultural achievement as deep thought, original insight, or facility with language into the single word: content.

Consequently, we skim rather than absorb. Pushed for time, we settle for shallow. Or as the high school kids say, “Read the CliffsNotes.”

As difficult as it seems, we can learn to write with flair, rhythm, and create simple, memorable sentences. The one factor to remember is that aphorisms must have a twist—an element of surprise. Strong aphorisms seduce and surprise us.

Whether we’re aware, we quote aphorisms regularly and (sadly) many become cliched, tired sentences: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Boring today, but in the beginning, those few words held significant meaning.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Work as if you were to live 100 years, pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Write your own, and cut extra words. Keep your sentences simple.

We remember short sentences;
we skim long ones.

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