Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dept. of Egregious Collocations

Herewith George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language, which you can take as a brief & readable writing style guide. It's interesting to read him riffing on real-life '40s-vintage intellectual babble, drawing from the same hatred of poor or denuded language that animated his portrayal of Newspeak in 1984.

The central nugget in list form:
(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 barbarous.

Kind of an abbreviated Strunk & White with some added midcentury political overtones. Not unworth reading!


Blogger Nate said...

Great. Basically every single sentence I've ever put on this blog is a violation of at least one of those Orwell rules. Three cheers for unpolished writing. Maybe I can just claim that produces some kind of intellectually engaging frisson between lofty ideas and sloppy words.

At least I've never written anything barbarous that I know of. Though there I'm thinking of something like KILL THE HUMANS. EAT THEIR BLOOD. CRUSH THE BONES HUMANS.

Mostly I still go on what I learned in the 10th grade: if you go over every paragraph and convert all the passive sentences to active sentences the night before it's due, there's a good chance the grade written at the bottom of your essay without any additional commentary will be either an A or an A-minus.

12/04/2006 9:01 PM  

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