Brevity is the soul of wit.
Shakespeare wrote that. And no one said it was shallow because he said it in fewer than 140 characters (27, to be precise).
When people who don’t understand Twitter whine about it, a common implication is that you can’t say much in 140 characters. So everything on Twitter must be shallow, right? I received a job application recently that touted the other social media the applicant was using but dismissed Twitter, implying that the person’s big thoughts simply couldn’t be expressed in just 140 characters.
Setting aside the fact that one of Twitter’s best uses is to distribute links to pieces of greater depth, I want to dispute the myth that short equals shallow. I have done my share of lengthy writing. I once wrote a newspaper story that ran 200 inches and my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection ran 38 pages as a pdf. But I aspire to get to the point occasionally with a nugget of wit or wisdom.
So I rounded up some wisdom, insight and humor, much of which you will recognize immediately, all of it tweetworthy.
Let’s start with Jesus, whose most famous statement fits easily in a tweet: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
And some of the most enduring statements from our presidents fit easily in tweets (I deliberately left President Obama off this list because it is just too soon to say which statements of his will endure):
Thomas Jefferson: I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Harry Truman: The buck stops here.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
John F. Kennedy: And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
And, of course, leaders of other nations have been eloquent but brief as well:
Winston Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Nelson Mandela: If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
Other inspirational leaders also showed their eloquence in brief statements:
Mohandas Gandhi: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Patrick Henry: I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death.
Helen Keller: It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Douglas MacArthur: Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
Rosa Parks: All I was doing was trying to get home from work.
Gloria Steinem: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
A couple writers known for their pithy wisdom nearly always shared it in bursts of less than 140 characters:
Benjamin Franklin: Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
Aesop: It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.
Of course, I could go on and on. Virtually every advertising tag line (Just do it. Got milk?) would fit in a tweet, as would many lines from Shakespeare, Mark Twain and other literary giants, as well as lines from our favorite movies, songs and comedians. Not to mention such sages as Yogi Berra and Gertrude Stein. How many of your favorite “Seinfeld” lines would fit in a tweet?
Twitter leaves plenty of room to say something important. Most of us don’t take full advantage of that room, but you could say that about any communication forum.
If you’re interested in more tweetworthy wit, wisdom and inspiration, I’ve compiled other brief quotes by source (it may take me a while to post all the links). Please feel free to add more in the comments. I know I’ve just scratched the surface here:
- The Bible (and holy books from other faiths)
- Winston Churchill
- Benjamin Franklin
- Mohandas Gandhi
- Thomas Jefferson
- Helen Keller
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Abraham Lincoln
- Nelson Mandela
- Karl Marx (didn’t quote him above, but his impact is undeniable)
- Ronald Reagan
- Gloria Steinem
A note on sources: I chose the quotes in this post primarily from memory, checking all of the quotes in this post in multiple sources (they all show up hundreds, if not thousands, of times on a Google search, so I won’t cite them all). The source I used most, including for most of the quotes in the related links, was BrainyQuote. Biblical quotes were checked using BibleGateway. I used the Bible translation that seemed to be the most-quoted for that passage, often the King James.