“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly…”
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
If you ever need a shot of verbal adrenalin, just turn to the brief but bitingly pithy essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Our boy George penned it in 1946, but it’s still incredibly — even scarily — relevant. It’s a true classic and not to be missed (you can easily find it online). Embedded in the essay are some timeless tidbits on writing that are well worth sharing — and pondering:
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
What am I trying to say?
What words will express it?
What image or idiom will make it clearer?
Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
Could I put it more shortly?
Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
“But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never us a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Wonderful advice from a wonderful author. Could it really be that writing clearly is writing dangerously?
If so, then let’s risk it — and write on!