A picture is worth a thousand words  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the idea that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.

It is believed that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article by Fred R. Barnyard in the advertising trade journal Printers' Ink, promoting the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars. The December 8, 1921 issue carries an ad entitled, "One Look is Worth A Thousand Words."

Another ad by Barnard appears in the March 10, 1927 issue with the phrase "One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words," where it is labeled a Chinese proverb (一畫勝千言). The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Familiar Phrases quotes Barnard as saying he called it "a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously." Soon after, the proverb would become popularly attributed to Confucius.

Despite this modern origin of the popular phrase, the sentiment has been expressed by earlier writers. For example the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev wrote (in Fathers and Sons in 1862), "A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound."

The quote is sometimes attributed to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who said "Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours," or "A good sketch is better than a long speech". While this is sometimes translated today as "A picture is worth a thousand words," this translation may not predate the phrase's common use in English.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A picture is worth a thousand words" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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