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Photo of Professor David Crystal Professor David Crystal
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Our resident language expert, Professor David Crystal, explains how Einstein had a way with words...

Most quotations make a single point. But if you really want your remarks to have an impact, try to make two. Einstein was a master of the two-part quote.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

If the quote is to be really effective, the two parts have to contrast, and ideally the contrast should be maintained all the way through. This is a lovely example. We have imagination corresponding to logic, take you corresponding to get you, and everywhere corresponding to from A to B.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

If you want your two-parter to be remembered, it's very important to ensure that the two parts aren't too long and are in a rhythmical balance. 'Not too long' means ideally less than five important words. Anything more, and the quote becomes increasingly difficult to remember.

Einstein satisfies both criteria: the first sentence has four main words: logic, get, A, and B; the second has three: imagination, take, and everywhere. And each sentence has a steady alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables (as in much poetry), so that the pace keeps up when you say it aloud.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

It might seem like stating the obvious, but always pay attention to who said a quotation. This one could have been said by virtually anyone. But when a physicist says it, there's an added effect. We expect scientists to be all for logic. To find one cheering on imagination is good to see.

Professor David Crystal is a prolific writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster.

He published the first of his 100 or so books in 1964, and is famous for his research work in English language studies.