Saturday, July 22, 2006

Orwellian Language

Ann Althouse discusses a splendid old essay by George Orwell entitled "Politics and the English Language." Althouse points out that some academics now dismiss the essay's worth, but I agree with her that it is well worth the read. Orwell was mortified at the decline in the quality of written English in his day. One can only imagine his response to what passes for political commentary now.

Althouse also provides Orwell's list, found near the end of the essay, of key rules for writing well:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Never use 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.


These rules are similar to those emphasized in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, a small book (part grammar book; part writing guide) that taught me more about writing than every other class and learning tool combined. That is not to say that I would claim to have mastered their instruction. Nevertheless, for years I have encouraged any recent graduate who wished to improve his or her writing to work through that little book.

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