'The Long And Short of It': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 12, 2024

Have you ever heard the expression 'the long and short of it' and wondered what it meant? You're in the right place! In this article, we'll explore the meaning of this common idiom, its possible origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you're just here to find out what it means, here's the short version:

  • This idiom is used to convey the essential or most important aspects of a situation or information.

What Does 'The Long And Short of It' Mean?

This expression summarizes a complex idea or provides a concise explanation of something. In other words, when someone says, 'the long and short of it is,' they are getting to the main point or the key details without going into unnecessary or elaborate explanations.

It's an idiom, and idioms are groups of words used to express a concept that only makes sense as a whole; the meaning can't be deciphered by looking at the terms separately.

So how do you use it? Well, imagine, for instance, that you had a meeting at the office, and when you returned home, your partner asked you what had been discussed.

You might say:

It was a very long meeting but the long and short of it is that they want us to cut costs. 

Interestingly, it used to be 'the short and long of it,' but the idiom was inverted at some point in time and just stayed this way.

Where Does 'The Long And Short of It' Come From?

Shakespeare is often quoted as the one who coined this phrase, and indeed, he used it in his 1602 comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor

Here is the quote:

Marry, this is the short and the long of it; you have brought her into such a canaries as 'tis wonderful. The best courtier of them all, when the court lay at Windsor, could never have brought her to such a canary.

However, this doesn't explain how it started or why it's made up of these specific words. Often, with idioms, you can trace back their meaning to a logical explanation.

But this isn't the case here, and sometimes idioms do emerge organically in language communities, and their origins can be challenging to trace with precision. In the case of 'the long and short of it,' it likely evolved over time. As people use and understand these expressions, they become ingrained in the language and persist through generations.

What's more, some sources trace this idiom back to the 1500s, with the following passage:

Thys ys the schorte and longe.

But I couldn't find a trustworthy source to back this up or say where it comes from.

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it.

After hours of discussion, the long and short of it is that we need to cut costs to stay within budget.

I don't want all the details; just tell me the long and short of what happened at the meeting.

After analyzing the data, the long and short of the research indicates a positive correlation between exercise and mental well-being.

The long and short of her argument was that the project needed more time for proper development.

We can debate the issue for hours, but the long and short of the matter is that a decision needs to be made today.

The long and short of the report is that our sales have increased by 20% in the last quarter.

I'll spare you the lengthy explanation; here's the long and short of our plan for the weekend.

The long and short of the movie is that it's a heartwarming story about friendship and perseverance.

The details are irrelevant; here's the long and short of the new company policy.

Despite the complex legal issues, the long and short of the court's decision is that the defendant is not guilty. 

Other Ways to Say 'In a Nutshell'

There are plenty of other ways to say that you're just explaining the overall situation. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

Here are some of them:

  • The crux of the matter is...
  • The bottom line is...
  • In a nutshell...
  • To make a long story short...
  • To cut to the chase...
  • The essence of it is...
  • To sum it up...
  • The heart of the matter is...
  • To get to the point...
  • The nub of the issue is...

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone inserts 'the long and short of it' in their sentence, you can know they're giving you the general gist of something instead of going into the details. 

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for other idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!       

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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