Tips from an even better writer than Joey Barton

If you're thinking of a summer job washing dishes in the City of Lights, this'll put you off
If you’re thinking of a summer job as a plongeur in the City of Lights, this’ll put you off

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: Orwell came up with six practical rules to help people avoid bad writing:

  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.

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?

Of course former QPR star Joey Barton is the true inheritor of Orwell's mantle
Of course former QPR star Joey Barton is the true inheritor of Orwell’s mantle.

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.

Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

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