On Writing Clearly
Semi-regularly, mostly as a reminder to myself, I post George Orwell’s six rules of good writing, from his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. I was spurred to post them again after reading Tony Judt’s essay Words* in the NYR Blog. (As an aside, I had an interesting discussion with Alexande Enkerli, who suggests that the particular mania about clarity and concision in writing is not culturally universal, and is, indeed, particularly, or especially, Anglo-Saxon. Which sounds about right).
Here are Orwell’s six rules; rules I try to respect:
(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.
(*Says Judt: “Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language. No longer free to exercise it myself, I appreciate more than ever how vital communication is to the republic: not just the means by which we live together but part of what living together means.”)