Lickety-split works

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas uses the term “lickety-split” to describe the speed at which Hitler announced his choice for a replacement in a key army post. I love it.

I don’t think Metaxas used lickety-split because his vocabulary isn’t large enough to come up with a fancier choice. He is a best-selling Yale graduate whose work is vast and varied. He could have used words like expeditiously, or hypersonically or even speedily. But he made a deliberate choice to use a term that is common and easy, and describes snap speed. We know immediately what he means, and how quickly Hitler moved. And that there was meaning in the speed. It was lickety-split.

As a writer I am reminded that often the best word is the simpler word well used. When we writers are trying to show off our Thesaurus instead of our writing skills, or when we can’t build a sturdy bridge between what we know and our readers, everyone suffers.

Later on in the same chapter Metaxas proves his prowess with this simple statement: “…and the German people found themselves far from shore, alone in a boat with a madman.” That told me more about Germany’s state in 1933 than most anything else I have read.



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