Start The Week on Radio 4 this morning is about political writing, using George Orwell‘s essay Politics and the English Language as a launchpad: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01q8l31. Orwell came up with six practical rules to help people avoid bad writing:
- 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.
Orwell’s sixth rule means that the writer should break the previous rules when necessary for a proper sentence (Source: Wikipedia). I’d read these as a teenager but as readers of this blog will be aware, exiled them to the Siberia of my mind some time ago. Or is that too flowery?
I actually studied George Orwell for a university entrance exam. An Orwell aficionado teacher at school, Mr. Rankin, coached me with a few one-on-one tutorials, for which I had to write an essay. Mr. Rankin took Orwell’s rules for writing seriously – and I sensed, after reading my first essay, saw me as an offence to the art of wordsmithery (which isn’t even a word). “Ugly, trite phrases” is one comment he scrawled on my first essay. I was hoping he was referring to Orwell. He wasn’t. But there was a power in that construction “ugly, trite phrases”, that has made it lodge in my mind for the last 25 years. Worthy of Orwell himself.
- Steven Poole: My problem with George Orwell (guardian.co.uk)
- Christopher Hitchens on Orwell: “What people do not want to hear” (newstatesman.com)
- Wigan Pier and beyond: “So who is Orwell for?” (newstatesman.com)
- George Orwell remembered (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Orwell’s Rules for Clear Writing (economicpolicyjournal.com)