“Twitter, in its imposed brevity, seems to affirm the aphorism’s original meaning: be intelligently succinct”
What of Twitter? “Brevity is the soul of wit,” Shakespeare’s Polonius says, issuing the greatest unintentional aphorism in literature: at the time, scholars say, the line meant merely that concision is the essence of useful intelligence, and, of course, it was uttered as part of a deliberately long-winded speech. But it now captures—by the accident of the evolution of English, such that “wit” now means humor—a subtler truth: a joke is improved by compression. Twitter, in its imposed brevity, seems to affirm the aphorism’s original meaning: be intelligently succinct!
Being succinct without being funny often produces the effect of merely being mean. The Internet meme entertains because of its predictability, resting on the common expectations of the crowd. The dog in the burning house, the face palm, the man settling in to eat popcorn and watch the spectacle: these things are buoyed by the familiarity of their occurrence.
Adam Gopnik, “Brevity, Soul, Wit”, The New Yorker (22 July 2019), 69.