“Be obscure clearly.” ~ E. B. White

From one of my favorite authors and critical thinkers* on writing:

Dear Mr. –

It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal.

If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’*? One tomorrow would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your letter.


E. B. White

A letter from brevity champion E. B. White in defense of the richness of language.

*E. B. White, author and essayist, known for Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, numerous essays in The New Yorker, and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, among many others.


2 thoughts on ““Be obscure clearly.” ~ E. B. White

  1. Wow. There’s a line in there that perfectly sums it all up for me:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your letter.

    Hope you are feeling well, getting enough sleep, feel comfortable in your skin… Maybe you will get snow tomorrow? I enjoyed this beautiful day. I walked and walked and enjoyed the blanket of tiny blue flowers across the grass. Now, back to studying…

    Imagine me toasting you with a cup of tea….

    1. I have loved E.B. White since childhood.

      You are very welcome. Sorry it took me so long, but I warned you that I am a poor correspondent. Your walk sounds lovely. Happy studying.

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