In honor of Twitter’s 5th birthday today!

Sentence Lengths of British Public Speakers


Notice a trend here? It appears that the “sound bite” was emerging more than 70 years ago.

Since the average word has about 5 characters, Francis Bacon’s sentence length needed at least 360 characters – too long for a Tweet. In contrast, Winston Churchill’s average sentence can fit at about 120 characters – room to spare for Twitter’s limit of 140.

Adapted from R. J. Hoyle’s article “Decline of Language As a Medium of Communication,” The Journal of Irreproducible Results, pp. 134-135 (1983).

To quote R. J. Hoyle:

The decline of English as a means of communication is evident here and its eventual demise may be postulated.

The recently reported decline in the ability of students and people in many walks of life to use English in both speech and writing has been accompanied by suggestions that facility with English is of diminishing usefulness. (Time magazine, Aug. 25, 1975, “Can’t Anyone Here Speak English?”)

There’s more. The average word length, in letters, is declining over time.

The decline {letters per word} is approximately one letter per century and can be extrapolated to zero letters per word at about the year 2450.


  1. #1 Greg Laden
    March 21, 2011

    This is a situation up with which I shall not put.

  2. #2 Rod
    March 21, 2011

    Sir Winston, you are drunk!
    Madam, you are ugly. At least in the morning I’ll be sober!

  3. #3 Maria
    March 21, 2011

    zero letters per word at about the year 2450


  4. #4 dmab
    March 21, 2011

    mr. Nonsense on stilts

  5. #5 Jeff
    March 21, 2011

    Indeed. The “journal article” is tongue and cheek, after all!

  6. #6 London Skeptic
    May 4, 2012

    I’ll keep this short then.

    Be concise!


  7. #7 Social Media
    May 4, 2012

    If only Social Media was around in the days of Churchill, I’m sure we’d have some more gems from the mouth of the great wordsmith!


  8. #8 Mulled Wine
    May 4, 2012

    Will this make writing easier, or will text be a thing of the past!

  9. #9 Used Cars Crawley
    May 4, 2012

    I’ll keep this in mind when I’m tweeting for my company. Concise soundbites are the way forward!


  10. #10 samsung 1080p hdtv
    May 27, 2012

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