Fair words enough a man shall find,
They be good cheap, they cost right nought,
Their substance is but only wind,
But well to say, and so to mean,
That sweet accord is seldom seen.
—Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)
For those of us in the business of communicating concepts through words (and when you get right down to it, aren’t we all?), it helps to review some basics about getting our messages heard through the cacophony of noise. And for the rest of us who have to sort out all the competing messages, we would give anything for that priceless “sweet accord” that Sir Thomas Wyatt refers to. The words that will get noticed are those that are “seldom seen,” those fair few that meet at the intersection of “well said” and “well meant.”
Sir Thomas Wyatt provides us a few timeless lessons on finding that priceless “sweet accord” of fair words and truth:
1. Leave white space. “Fair words enough a man shall find…” Say/write only enough to get your message to your intended listener/reader. It is always better to leave people wanting more than to suffocate them with well-intentioned words.
2. On the other hand… don’t be stingy with your fair words. “They cost right nought…” There may be a day, a moment, an opportunity when you are the one person who is there in the right place at the right time to say something very true, very well, and very much needed. That is not the time for white space.
3. Say your most important things very well. “Well to say…” Honor your best efforts by giving them your best words. You are not going to change the world with your ground-breaking study of newfound truth if no one can understand what you are saying (or if they are too bored by it to wait for the punch line).
4. Use fine words fittingly. “So to mean…” Your loyal readers honor you with their eyes. Don’t betray that trust with empty words or half-truths. If you have nothing of substance or meaning to offer at this time, take a pass and leave space for the next messenger bearing the substance of sweet accord.