When one thinks of Henry David Thoreau, the classic image that comes to mind is of a man who lived alone in the woods, attempting to live simply using only that which he deemed necessary. After all, one of his most famous sayings from Walden is “Simplify, simplify.” However, for someone who was so adamant on preaching simplicity, the number of times Thoreau used the term simplicity (or variations) was actually quite low. The word simple was used 25 times, simply was used 19, simplicity was used 10, and simplify was used only twice.
This brings up some interesting observations and questions. Why do certain sayings stick out to us and become memorable, especially if the words in the saying are rarely used? Generally, in order to remember something, we have to drill it into our heads, and read it and see it often to embed it. It seems that that is the opposite here. Here, the lack of frequency of certain words is what seems to be the key to remembering it. The lack of the variations of simplicity is also interesting from a message point of view. By not using those particular words frequently, Thoreau is being simple in using the term “simple,” and direct in the language he is using for his overall message of living simply. Whether he did this on purpose or not, the idea is interesting to think about.