Brevitas: Keep It Concise

Have You Ever?

Have you ever heard the phrase “elevator pitch?” Imagine that you’re working at a company and you’ve come up with a great new idea. Before you can implement it though, you’ll need funding and you need your boss’ approval to get that. The only problem is your boss is a very busy person: his schedule is booked for three months from now. Then one morning, you find yourself entering the same elevator as your boss. He’s not busy and it’s just the two of you. Now is the perfect time to pitch your idea, but you only have a minute, maybe two, before he reaches his floor and has to go about his schedule. How do you fully pitch your idea in such a short time frame?

The Answer

The art of the elevator pitch is being able to explain an idea, no matter how complex, as simply and succinctly as possible. In other words, you need to employ brevitas in order to be able to pitch your idea to your boss before he exits the elevator.

Definition of Brevitas

Brevitas is a rhetorical technique in which something is expressed in as few words as possible. Very simply, brevitas is a concise expression.  

The History

The word “brevitas” is borrowed from Latin. It means “shortness” and can be applied when talking about space, time, or discourse. It’s mentioned in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, the oldest surviving Latin book on rhetoric. The ideas and rhetorical devices it outlines are still  used today. Brevity is defined in the book as conveying an idea in the minimal amount of vital words. 

Applying It

When used properly, brevitas allows a speaker to express a message far more succinctly than they could with more words. By limiting your speech, you add emphasis to that concise expression you choose to offer. A lot can be implied in a simple statement. For example, say you’re disappointed that you didn’t score as high on a school assignment as you thought you would and your older brother tells you, “That’s life.” Even though he only says two words, there’s a lot to unpack there. “That’s life” is equivalent to “It’s unfair that this happened to you but life is unfair and will continue to be unfair.” Brevitas relies on context and tone: your brother’s statement has a different meaning if he has a caring arm slung around your shoulder than it does if he says it absentmindedly while playing a video game.

Be wary of saying too little though: brevitas when overused or used improperly can lapse into the obscure. However, when used in conjunction with other statements, brevitas really shines. A well-placed brevitas in an essay or longer piece can highlight a particular passage or idea. Furthermore, passages with varied sentence length - some short and others long - more easily keep a reader’s attention. Brevitas, though small, can really say a lot.

Think Further

  1. What are some common examples of brevitas?
  2. When and where do you find yourself using brevitas?
  3. Why do you favor brevitas in these situations?


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Learn More

  1. Bezerra, Burna M., Antonio S. Souto, Andrew N. Radford and Gareth Jones. “Brevity is not always a virtue in primate communication.” Biology letters, vol 7, issue 1, 2010. Doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0455.
  2. Goldstein, Laurence. Brevity. Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-19-966498-6.
  3. Marschak, Jacob. “Economics of language.” Behavioral Science: Journal of the Society for General Systems Research, 1965. Doi: 10.1002/bs.3830100203.