Orwellian language

It has been one of my life’s missions to try to communicate economics clearly, by writing accessible books. George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language was an early influence on my writing. This wonderful essay is also available as a Penguin pamphlet.

Politics and the English Language

Every writer, especially one “translating” jargon-based work like economics into English should follow his rules:

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 wholeheartedly agree as well with the claim in this essay that: “[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” I’m always highly suspicious of books written so impenetrably that they’re hard to understand, including academic books.

Anyway, if you happen not to have read the essay, do – bearing in mind the irony that (because of 1984) ‘Orwellian’ has come to mean the opposite of the kind of writing Orwell champions here.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Update: I just found this Steve Poole column describing the Orwell essay as ‘wildly over-rated’. He underestimates how hard it is to follow the rules above, even if following them slavishly might be too extreme. Have a go yourself….

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