Wisdom and Knowledge


An unsourced quote (or at least one I’ve never found a credible attribution for) that I’m fond of:

“Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster.”

But see xkcd.

Apologies for Length


Often misattributed to Mark Twain, on the theory that everything witty can be plausibly attributed to him, this is a good thought to keep in mind: “I’m sorry about the length of this letter; I didn’t have time to write you a shorter one.” There are lots of variants, but a good summary of the phrase in English, attributing it as a translation from Pascal, is here.


From George Orwell


“The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

-George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

If you have never read this essay, the whole thing is here. Go read it now.

Christopher Lasch on Initialism


“In accordance with the principle that good writing must always oppose the bureaucratic debasement of language, it is a good idea, wherever possible, to refer to the names of governmental agencies, voluntary associations, and other organizations by their full name, not by their initials. The widespread use of initials tends either to lend suspect purposes a spurious air of importance and dignity or, as in the now almost mandatory resort to acronyms in naming organizations, agencies, and weapons systems . . . to make remote bureaucratic agencies or deadly systems of destruction seem folksy, cute, and accessible. Good writing should resist such designs, although there are obvious limits beyond which it is not possible to avoid initials.”
– Christopher Lasch, Plain Style: a Guide to Written English, 69–70 (2002)