July 5, 2008

Language and Politics

In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language which contains this advice to writers:
(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.
After reading a friend's paper for an undergraduate psychology class, I resolve to follow Orwell’s advice more than I have been -- lest I inflict upon my readers the same incomprehensible mush that comes out of so many undergraduate classes these days. My friend has some good ideas, but the sentences and paragraphs in which they came wrapped take a lot of dissection before they yield fruit. (Orwell didn't say anything about mixed metaphors). Clear, direct, simple -- that's the way to go.

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