Wot Orwell said

George OrwellI’ve just read – for the first time – George Orwell’s famous essay ‘Politics and the English Language’. I’m not sure why I hadn’t got to it before now, it’s exactly the sort of thing I’d usually have been all over as a keen Eng Lit undergraduate. I can only think the ‘Politics’ bit put me off. 

It’s frighteningly relevant today.

‘Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’

[Insert mental image of your chosen politician here]

But the piece I wanted to share with you today is his formulation of the six rules for choosing your words to write effectively. 

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 I’d argue with him (well, I woudn’t really, I’d be too intimidated) about the ‘never’ and the ‘always’ here. It’s a big language with room for all sorts. But these are not bad principles to write by.*


*Or ‘by which to write’, if you REALLY like rules.