Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Word it like Warren

This is very cute:
Really smart people use figures instinctively, even if they don’t know what figures are.

Take Warren Buffett. Investors read his annual Berkshire Hathaway Chairman’s Letter like it was Moses’ tablets from on high, mostly to enjoy his wit and wisdom. Well, okay, mostly to glean the secrets of the world’s savviest investor. But how many investment letters get quoted for decades afterward? Mr. Buffetts’ do, because he’s a wizard at figures—the rhetorical as well as the business kind.

For instance, in his 2004 letter he said that a timely investor is one who’s “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” That’s a first-class chiasmus, though Figaro doubts that he’d use the term. “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price,” Buffett said. Another nice chiasmus.Try it yourself when you want your writing to stick out. It’s not a question of whether we’re against Google. It’s whether Google is against us.

Besides using snazzy ways to change the usual word order, Buffett also likes one of Figaro’s own favorite devices: taking clichés literally. Here’s a quote from a panel discussion he did in 2008: “I try to buy stock in businesses that are so wonderful that an idiot can run them. Because sooner or later, one will.” See what he did? He took the cliché, “an idiot can run it,” and imagined that it wasn’t a cliché at all. Why prefer something that an idiot can run, if an idiot will never run it?

No comments:

Post a Comment