I’m in the process of writing my first paper in grad school. My PI suggested I read some essays on writing in order to improve my own writing, which is overly lengthy and obtuse. One such essay was “Politics and the English Language” by Orwell, found here: https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/. It was insightful and helpful in thinking about my own writing and how I communicate. He also has some useful cultural commentary that still applies today, perhaps even more than it did in 1946.
“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. The point is that the process is reversible.”
His suggested rules for 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.
These rules sound good, but I haven’t done enough writing to fully evaluate them yet. For those here who do lots of reading and writing, have you read this essay before? Do you agree/disagree with the rules that Orwell suggests?