The people's voice of reason

The Importance Of Brevity

Over the years most of us have had to endure more than one windy speaker. Unfortunately, what most speakers don't realize was that a good speech doesn't have to be a long speech. Fifteen minutes should be the limit for an effective speech. Beyond that we get into boredom. A two minute speech can accomplish as much or more than a two-hour presentation.

A case in point is the two-minute presentation given by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Lincoln's address came after a two-hour chronology given by the distinguished orator, Edward Everett. Among Mr. Everett's credentials were, the presidency of Harvard University, service to his country as Secretary of State, and service to Massachusetts as that state's senator.

While press reports of that day’s activities cast Lincoln's presentation in the shadows of the 69-year-old Everett's oration, the nation has well noted, and has long remembered the President’s words uttered that day.

Mr. Lincoln's speech was a monument to brevity and clarity. It consisted of only ten sentences, all but the last of which averaged 20 words. In addition, two words he chose averaged five letters each. The address consisted of just three paragraphs. But these three paragraphs captured the essence of the occasion more than Mr. Everett's two hour monologue.

Mr. Lincoln began his presentation with an unusual time reference construction that has endured to this day. The words “eighty seven” have nowhere near the impact that “Four score and seven....” carried.

In addition, he used repetition to great effect, employing such devices as:

“We cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow...”


“of the people, by the people, for the people...”

Plus, he employed such devices as: “little note nor long remember...”

On that chilly November day, Mr. Lincoln stood before the crowd at Gettysburg and recalled:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

“We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that nation might live.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate it, we cannot hallow this ground.

“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

“The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task of remaining before us—that these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Every American, every schoolchild in the country, can recite at least portions of that famous, brief, speech given 152 years ago. The ironic note to the whole affair is that Mr. Lincoln's two-minute speech was, at that time, “little noted,” but in the end, the Gettysburg Address is “long remembered,” both as an effective speech, as well as a tribute to brevity.

In this memorable speech Mr. Lincoln employed: 10 sentences, 267 words (the average word was three letters), and the first nine sentences averaged 200 words or less in length.

Remembering February

For those of us who still remember what “phonograph records” were: RCA issued the first 45 rpm single song record, in February 1949, and the Juke Box soon followed.

February is the month of the year that can pass without having a full moon.

On the second day of the month folks in the U.S. and Canada await the result of what the ground hog does. My witness anxiously await.

On the third Monday each February the U. S. celebrates Presidents' Day, when we celebrate the births of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Our hearts flutter an extra beat on each February 14, in celebration of Valentine's Day, and some of us recall that in 1929 on that date Al Capone's boys descended on members of the Bugs Moran to leave a few lead Valentines, in celebration of Prohibition.

February is also “Feed the Birds Month,” as well as Avocado and Banana month.

On the 20th, pet owners can celebrate “Love Your Pet Day,,” when your writer must be especially nice to Wiley the cat.

The violet is the flower of the month, and the amethyst is its birthstone.

And in February many in the South look forward to Shrove Tuesday “Fat Tuesday,” or Mardi Gras.

The month is named in honor of the ancient Roman rite of purification, or Februa.

And some even celebrate February as “Spunky Old Broads Month.”


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