Concision Needs Precision

Concise is concisely defined as cut down/up.

It’s not as simple as this though. To simplify any piece of language requires some complicated action. In all instances of reduction or consolidation – from language to engineering to social institutions to your closet – simplified forms are contrived through more complicated processes. It takes energy to arrange things into a more efficient state. Concise items are crafted, not remnants of their origin.

Additionally, precise is concisely defined as exact. It’s notable that precise is etymologically ambiguous from concise, meaning cut short (vs. cut down).

I feel concise should be defined with both these senses of “cut” in mind. Both the etymological meaning and the modern meaning; such that: concision is precise.

A concise piece is irrelevant if it cuts so much the meaning is altered, or if it uses loop-holes or excessive compounds such that to read it would take as long as the unabridged version. The cut should be as exact as possible, and so should not be phrasal removal and re-combination (i.e. cutting up) nor selecting parts for removal (cutting down). Concision is to reduce something down, make it more efficient. What the definition lacks is the how that makes the what. Concision may be an art more than its brutish definition lets on. Perhaps how it’s done is with precision. Precision in what precisely?

The nature of concise things leaves judging it’s success difficult. It could be crudely measured – linguistically and quantitatively – by tracking the substitutions and word population difference, coupled with meaning preservation per relevant definitions and overall message difference. Another possible check could be to reverse engineer the concise wording to see how difficult it is to match the original wording. However, it’s always going to have language’s nuanced ambiguity for measurement uncertainty.

The following will be some examples of concise products with the purpose of clarifying what it means to be concise, how to be concise, and if it can be measured.

Exercise 1: Original wording: “The school programs and institution boards seem messed up and can’t teach kids the basic things. There surely is a way to fix it other than homeschool or drop-outs.” Concise wording: “Options exist for improving the primary educational institution’s pedagogical dysfunctions.”

-Here the concise version collapsed the two sentences into one by setting up a compound sentence, it’s able to be compounded due to using synonyms that are more encompassing along with grammatical tricks to string words together without using conjunctions, prepositions, and other linkages. So, the new form is hard to reduce further, but there is a clincher to address: meaning preservation. I’d say in this case the meaning has changed subtly, notably with a lack of preserving “seems”; the uncertainty component was forsaken, let alone the “way[s]” were cut down to unspecified “options”

1st Lesson: meaning must be preserved; less the degree of concision demands maximizing word reduction. It seems there may be some ambiguity inherent to this process.

Exercise 2: Original wording: “Gravitationally compressed spheres of matter with high enough core pressures cause stable matter to consolidate into lower energy states resulting in radiation byproducts of photons and particles proportional to their atomic fusion source.” Concise wording: “Stars shine by high-gravity-induced atomic fusion.”

-Here the concise version did not require using vocabulary to say a lot with one word in the way it did in Ex1. Also, it’s not relying on synonyms. Instead, it’s treating it like a Jeopardy answer, giving the definition for what’s explained. The hyphenated word is not quite a connective word dodger, but a means of making up a complex word without actually making up words. Overall, it seams the meaning is preserved, as reverse engineering the concision could just give the original, whereas EX1 would require millions of attempts before that wording was extrapolated.

2nd Lesson: Sophisticated or complex words are not a universal component of concision. The choice of words should be based on meaning preservation, which can be done concisely by seeing single words that can define a large chunk and then finding ways of using these consolidating words (i.e. definitions) in a way that is clear.

Exercise 3: Original wording: “With wings of speed unto mountains lone, whose time’s consent is not lightly wone.” Concise wording: “Dire traversal of the country.” Alternate: “Urgently cross the country with haste.”

-The concision method had to use interpretation far more than the other two. By understanding the metaphorical and archaic phrasing and word it became a challenge of what words to settle on; hence the two concisions. “Wings of speed” is a way to say moving abnormally quick; “mountains lone” leaves us to assume it’s some remote wilderness; “whose time’s consent is not lightly wone” is best broken down as: whose=someone’s, time’s consent=time restraint, wone=habit/practice, possibly interpreted as, “someone’s time limit is taken seriously”. Here, the interpretation, or translation, was critical to begin the word-to-word transformation. Due to significant reliance on assumptions, meaning is preserved well if the interpretation was accurate; and trying to reverse this as a test of concision precision would be useless as it’s contextually befuddled.

Lesson 3: Concision is more than word and definition manipulation. It also includes assumptions on the meaning of subjective aspects in the words. There is ambiguity in all language but it varies from obvious or explicit to embedded or coded, with further uncertainty in its origin, from artistic to historic to lunatic.

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How to be concise is yet to be determined fully, but we’re on our way…

To follow this up I’ll next address concise original words. That is, original wordings already highly concise. The focus will be on authored concision and in-situ spoken concision. The three lessons above will be incorporated and a grand conclusion will be drawn.

8 Comments

  1. I read this when you first posted it and I wanted to come back with something witty. I got nothing!

    But it did make me smile. This is not very concise. Rather it is full of details that if cut… would not be as fun to read.

    Ha ha. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good points. My English teacher in high school first told me I needed to be concise in my writing. I honed it in college. But you explained it concisely.

    Liked by 1 person

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