Tamsin Constable

Short cuts

“I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

Dr Samuel Johnson who was born 300 years ago this month (1709) disliked writing that was decorative or deliberately archaic. He was a passionate advocate of excellent writing, and this, one of my favourite quotes is often attributed to him.

It turns out, though, that neither Johnson (nor Mark Twain, to whom this quote is also often attributed) ever actually said this.

But the scientist Blaise Pascal, in a letter in 1657, did write:

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”

Translated, this is: “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”

The inaccurate and wrongly attributed version does sound snappier. The gist is the same. But what about the tone?

Leave a Reply