Monday, September 20, 2010

Orwell's Rules

FLG was thinking today about Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." His rules for writing are so simple:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us 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. 
There's this example in the essay that always strikes FLG:
Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

Most of the time FLG figures muddled writing is the result of muddled thinking, but purposefully muddled writing to hide lucid thinking is always a possibility.


Anonymous said...

See...there's something to the idea of a National Talk like a Grad Student Day.

Invent it!

Mrs. P

Flavia said...

I gave Orwell's essay to my Honors freshman for the second or third day of class this year. I haven't assigned it since I was teaching freshmen at INRU, and wasn't sure how it would go over--especially this early in the term before we'd actually started writing, revising, talking about precise language, etc.

So I started them off by asking why (meaning why in the context of our course's topic) they thought I'd assigned them the essay. One student raised her hand and said, "Um, maybe because it's AWESOME?"

Dude, they loved it. And it's become a great reference point for the rest of our readings. Never taking it off my syllabus again.

FLG said...

It is awesome.

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