July 2010

Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. That was Julius Caesar's snappy slogan, sent back to the Senate in Rome to announce his victory over Pharnaces II. It was so memorable that people still know it by heart today. It uses alliteration, assonance and rhyme, and it's compressed into just three words. It's majestically assertive, and it's unarguable since it presents objective fact – but presents it with poetic power and immense authority.

'Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.' It's by CS Lewis from his book Studies in Words, and it's valuable advice for us all. Because the last few decades – maybe the last 100 years or so – have in fact seen a remarkable devaluing of powerful words. Right now, the best way to write powerfully is, if anything, to be understated.