Wit is the ability to be clever. Wisdom is knowing when clever will get you beaten up.
I know many people who are clever. Some are clever when they shouldn’t be. Many times that person is me.
I’m a fan of layers in communication — being able to reach more than one audience within a single message. If a particular analogy communicates at a basic level, yet alludes to something on a higher plane, that’s effective writing. Some people learn by peeling the onion.
I first started toying with these concepts while still in television news. The size of the canvas is measured in time, and it’s hard to paint pretty pictures on a postage stamp. Every second counts, and counts against you. If you can marry the words and the pictures just so, you can squeeze more meaning than in the words or the pictures alone.
We celebrate the clever, and we appreciate the genius behind it. Comedians often get away with remarks about hecklers or others in the audience by sheer virtue of wit. Comedy writers squeeze naughty content through a device known as the double-entendre. Yes, they can be very funny. Yes, they are very clever. But it’s time we celebrate the single-entendre.
Writing in single-entendres:
- eliminates potential ambiguity
- puts the focus on your point
- puts your ego in the backseat
- respects the reader’s time
If you find yourself patting your own back about something clever you wrote, ask:
- for whom am I writing?
- how many will really get that?
- how many will enjoy it?
- how many might be confused? (or even offended)
Layers have their place, but let’s not forget where the onion gets its name: the same Latin root as the word union. Meaning one. Whole.
Single, naked thoughts are liberating.
[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, language, writing, communication[/tags]