What Does Brevity is the Soul of Wit Mean?

Brevity is the Soul of Wit Meaning

Definition: The funniest, wittiest statements are short and to the point.

Wit can refer both to wisdom and to wittiness. Brevity is another form of the word brief, which means short and succinct.

To say that brevity is the soul of wit is to say that keeping something succinct sounds wiser, wittier, and even funnier than a long, drawn-out statement.

This phrase is often given as advice or as a statement commending someone for an exceptionally witty statement.

Origin of Brevity Is the Soul of Wit

meaning of brevity is the soul of witWilliam Shakespeare coined this phrase in the play Hamlet, written in 1602. In the play, Lord Polonius makes a speech in which he calls Hamlet mad, or crazy. In the speech, Lord Polonius states,
“This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.”

Examples of Brevity Is the Soul of Wit

brevity is soul of witIf someone is writing a speech, he may be struggling to cut down his total time to fit within the timeframe allotted to the speech.

Someone may tell the speechwriter that brevity is the soul of wit to remind him to keep his writing short and to the point.

In another situation, in which someone was giving a very long and boring speech, the audience may start to feel frustrated. One audience member may turn to another and sarcastically say, “brevity is the soul of wit” as a way of complaining.

More Examples

  • The saying goes that brevity is the soul of wit, so this argument merits a one-word refutation… –CNN
  • I quote from the book without attention to categories, but mostly I have sought out the briefest forms. As someone has said, brevity is the soul of wit. –LA Times

Summary

This phrase refers to the idea that keeping thoughts short and to the point sounds smarter and wittier.