Years ago while attending the University of Texas at Dallas I took a government class with Dr. Judy Bundy (though I don’t think she’s at UTD anymore). Anyway, she related this story on the chalkboard to the class one day and it stuck in my head as one of the most brilliant analogies I’ve ever heard.
Here is Dr. Bundy’s story:
There was a man sitting beside a pickup truck on the side of the road not far from the ocean. The back of the truck was overflowing with fish and about 50 yards before the truck he had posted a sign which read, “FRESH FISH SOLD HERE”.
Now, although some people did occasionally stop, Dr. Bundy questioned the effectiveness of the sign for the following reasons:
- Is it really necessary to use the word “FRESH”? I mean, no one is going to buy or sell old fish.
- Is it really necessary to use the word “SOLD”? Why else would a guy be sitting beside the road with a truck full of fish?
- Is it really necessary to use the word “HERE”? Um. That seems pretty obvious.
So, what we are left with is the realization that the sign would have been much more effective if it just said “FISH!”
We can call this the principle of “Conservation of Words”, and it should be practiced every time you write.
The one exception to this rule is if you are writing a story. Obviously in that case you can be as verbose as you like.
Incidentally, huge thanks to Colby Jones for illustrating this article for us!
Colby is one of the greatest artists I know, and I told him this story and he whipped out these illustrations. Aren’t they awesome!?! I highly recommend stopping by his brand new blog and subscribing for updates. I was his very first subscriber yesterday! woot!