If you “make a long story short” you’re cutting back on the information you are sharing. This means what could’ve been a ten-minute story or lecture becomes a much shorter one. It’s unclear where this idiom originated or exactly when it was first used. But, it appears to have come into common use sometime during the 1800s.
Explore to make a 'long story short'
To make a “long story short” is a clear and easy-to-remember idiom. It suggests that the speaker, or someone they’re talking about, is going to or needs to summarize what they’re saying.
It’s used when someone is talking about a topic or sharing information and decides to summarize it instead. One might say, “Rather than giving you all the details, I’m going to make a long story short and cut right to the heart of the matter.”
The origins of “make a long story short” are unknown. This is not uncommon for colloquialism, idiom, and proverbs. Often, their origins are lost. But, the earliest examples date back to the 1800s. One of particular interest comes from Henry David Thoreau who wrote:
Not that the story need to be long, but it will take a long time to make it short.
These words appeared in a letter and are a great example of how variations of the phrase are possible. Originally, it’s likely that the phrase was different from it is today. Often, words are replaced, or the same words are rearranged as time passes.
When to Use “long story short”
It’s possible to use “make a long story short” in a wide variety of situations. The phrase is easily included in everyday conversations with friends, family members, colleagues, and even in more serious, work, or academic conversations. One might use the phrase when they’re talking about their own “story” or when they’re describing someone else’s.
For example, you might preface a story you’re going to tell by saying, “to make a long story short.” Or, you might use the phrase right before the end of a story, to signal that you’re going to summarize what you’ve previously said and ensure that the conclusion arrives quickly.
It should be noted that this idiom isn’t only used when there is a “story” to tell. It could be used in regard to a speech, discussion, explanation, or other conversation. It is a way of signaling that you’re not going to go into as much detail as you might at another time. Usually, this is due to your understanding of the audience’s interest in the information or how much patience you have with your own storytelling. You could be in a rush or unwilling to give all the details that someone wants.
For instance, when one friend is explaining the ins and outs of their job to another friend they might say, “to make a long story short, I manage customer service.” Or, in another instance, after talking around the matter, someone might say “to make a long story short, I’m unemployed.”
- To make a long story short, I just really didn’t want to go to the party tonight.
- So, to make a long story short, what you’re saying is you never did what you were supposed to?
- It was only after the dinner that she explained what happened. To make a long story short, it wasn’t pretty.
- Do you think you could just make a long story short and tell us what happened in as few words as possible?
Why Do Writers the Idiom?
Writers use “make a long story short” in the same way and for the same reasons that people use it in everyday conversations. It’s possible to incorporate this phrase into a narrator’s description of events or in a conversation between two characters. It’s commonly heard and therefore will make sense in a wide variety of situations. Plus, it’s not nearly as cliché as some idioms are. It’s also possible to find variations of the phrase, for example, “cut a long story short” or just “long story short.”
People use “make a long story short” when they want to get to the heart of the information they’re trying to share or when they want to encourage someone else to do the same. It’s easily used in a wide variety of situations.
It can be mean depending on the tone the speaker takes. One might use it cruelly when they want to cut off someone’s “story” or information they are sharing. It would show one’s disdain for what someone else is interested in.