Classic Writing Advice from a Dystopian Author

George Orwell published his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” in 1946 while he was working on his dystopian novel 1984. Both deal with the way bureaucracies hide their agendas with convoluted grammar, pretentious word choice and intentional ambiguity. In this way, they conceal the fact that “pacification of the population” actually means “defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets.”

So for social and ethical reasons, but also to help us all write more clearly, he offers these few, simple guidelines:

One

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can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

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 jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

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

Go and do likewise.

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