Monday, September 17, 2007

Orwellian truths on how to write

George Orwell in 1946 published the essay Politics and the English Language lamenting the abuse of cliches in the English language.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Read the whole essay, its definitely worth the while of anyone even remotely interested in the language. Orwell summarizes his points with the following six suggestions to be followed when communicating in English --
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Link to couple more Orwellian articles -- Nonsense Poetry and In defence of P G Wodehouse.

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