Dabney On Brevity

From Dabney’s Sacred Rhetoric (has also been published as Evangelical Eloquence):

“… every superfluous word taxes the mind with an unnecessary labour, and calls it away from the thought. The verbose speaker, therefore, builds obstacles to the comprehension of his ideas, and, as it were, offers his hearers a premium for inattention. It is for this reason that brevity is necessary to energy. To use any phrase, ornament or epithet which is not necessary to the bodying forth of the main idea, is a sacrifice of effect. Every labour of attention, perception and comprehension, expended upon that excrescence, is so much subtracted from the force with which the mind should have grasped the main idea. Prune your language, then, with a severe hand. When we wish to strike a blow which shall be felt, we do not take up a bough loaded with foliage; we use a naked club” (R.L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric).

Although Dabney writes in the context of preaching or preparing a sermon, I believe it has application to a style of writing that is concise and pregnant with meaning while bereft of a barren superfluity of words.

Prune your language with a severe hand, says Dabney. This reminds me of some advice that Strunk & White gave in The Elements of Style.

I endeavor to write clear and concise with a desire to not tax the reader with a tedious and irksome superfluity reminiscent of prolix Puritans. Regrettably, I am unsure how much progress I have made in this elusive quest for lucid brevity. I am aware that many of my older posts and writings could have their verbosity significantly reduced with the editor’s machete. It is my hope and prayer that what I write (especially when putting forth essential gospel truth) will be sufficiently salty and clear.

“Steadfastly continue in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, praying together about us also, that God may open to us a door of the Word, to speak the mystery of Christ, on account of which I also have been bound, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward the ones outside, redeeming the time. Let your word [be] always with grace, having been seasoned with salt, to know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:2-6).