The formula for good speaking and good writing has been compared to a woman’s dress—“it should be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.” The saying has been cited in print since at least October 1920 and is of unknown authorship. In March 1921, the Wall Street Journal declared that this should be the standard for speeches, sermons and editorials.
The English priest and writer Ronald Knox (1888-1957) has been credited in several books for saying that “a good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt,” but it’s unlikely that he said this by 1920 and no citation has been found in his printed work.
26 October 1920, Kansas City (MO) Times, “Missouri Notes,” pg. 18, col. 6:
CAMPAIGNERS, HERE’S A PATTERN.
“Cut your speeches like a woman’s dress.” Harry Moore advised the Kemper Cadets, “long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.”—Boonville Republican.
1 December 1920, Tampa (FL) Morning Tribune, pg. 5A, col. 2:
Quoting the bishop of London, himself a Rotarian, Mr. Smith (Governor Dick Smith of Atlanta—ed.) said he hoped to make his talk “long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting, like a woman’s gown.”
(The Bishop of London was Arthur Winnington-Ingram, 1858-1946—ed.)
8 December 1920, Riverside (CA) Daily Press, pg. 6, col. 2:
Mr. Cuttle (Francis Cuttle of the chamber of commerce—ed.) said his speech would be like some of the gowns worn these days by some of the girls—just long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.
15 December 1920, Sandusky (OH) Register, “Breakfast Table Talk,” pg. 16, col. 2:
“My talk,” said A. C. Barclay of Columbus, deputy field executive of the Boy Scouts, addressing the Sandusky Rotary Club last night, “will be along the lines of the latest Parisian fashion in skirts. It will be just long enough to cover the subject and short enough to hold your interest.”
19 January 1921, The Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA), pg. 18, col. 2:
SKIRTS AND SPEECHES.
London, Eng.—“Speeches on a social occasion ought ot be like ladies’ skirts—long enough to cover the subject and short enough to be interesting,” said J. Weir, president of Norbury London County Council Tenants’ Association, speaking at a social gathering.
Google News Archive
3 March 1921, The Evening Tribune (Providence, RI), pg. 8, col. 3:
Speeches, sermons and editorials to-day,” says the Wall Street Journal, using to-day’s measurements, “should be like woman’s dress—long enough to cover the subject and short enough to sustain the interest.”
6 July 1921, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “In the Wake of the News,” pg. 19:
Dear Harvey: Whadeyu think? They’re going to model women’s dress after real after-dinner speeches--short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the subject.
Pinnacles of Personality
By Henry Clay Risner
New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s sons
The gentleman in introducing me said a speech should be like a lady’s skirt — it should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject.
The Writer’s Handbook
By A. S. Burack, et al.
Boston, MA: The Writer
Or the anonymous “A good speech, like a woman’s skirt, should be long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
By Des MacHale
Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
A good sermon should be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to rouse the interest, but long enough to cover the essentials. — RONALD KNOX
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters
By Joseph Sugarman
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Long Enough but Short Enough
Back in the days when copywriters were mostly men, there was an old adage about copy length: “Copy is like a woman’s skirt. It should be long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to make it interesting.”
By MATTHEW FELLING / CNET/ July 3, 2007, 4:13 PM
Best. Journalism Quotes. Ever.
Number One: (You’ll thank us for this at the picnic.)
A news story should be like a mini skirt on a pretty woman. Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.
. Anonymous, linked to a Texas newspaper editor
New York City • Media/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • Friday, August 03, 2012 • Permalink