British journalist and novelist George Orwell was known for expressing himself clearly and concisely. He was a print and broadcast journalist who also wrote books. He created six rules that can be applied to everything from writing a letter or news release to a short story or novel. The rules (below) are adapted from Orwell’s 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. Orwell’s most famous books are Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
“The English language is in a bad way”
ORWELL’S RULES (ADAPTED)
Don’t use a figure of speech that you are used to hearing or seeing in print.
Many speeches (and sportscasts) are full of tired figures of speech: “step up to the plate”, “axe to grind”, “grist for the mill”, “hammer out”, “acid test”.
If you have an original figure of speech, use it. If not, forget them.
Don’t use a long word where a short one will do.
Don’t say, “She facilitated changes”; say, “She made changes”.
Don’t say, “She communicated with…”; say, “She talked with…”
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Don’t say, “I am of the opinion that …”; say, “I think …”
Don’t say, “I am actively considering…”; say, “I am considering…”
Don’t use the passive tense where you can use the active.
Don’t say, “The result of lazy thinking is fuzzy writing”; say, “Lazy thinking produces fuzzy writing.”
Don’t use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon words if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Don’t say, “She has a certain joie de vivre”; write, “She enjoys life.”
Don’t say, “It was déjà vu”; say, “We’ve seen this before.”
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
If a word or phrase fits the occasion, use it. There is more than one way to say anything.
Language evolves over time. Some of what was frowned upon yesterday is acceptable, even recommended today. See the reference below to Stephen Pinker.
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language [full essay]
E-Notes: Politics and the English Language Summary
BBC History: George Orwell (1903-1950)
Goodreads: Review of Stephen Pinker’s The Sense of Style
Pinker talks about adapting the language to contemporary taste and mores.
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