“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

George Orwell is cool. 1984 and Animal Farm are staples of the high-school English class. If you read them in high-school, reread them. If not, read them. I was directed to an article Orwell wrote which feels like a hopeful obituary for the English language.

If you do any writing, professionally or personally, you must read Politics and the English Language. I wonder how his comments pertain to web-log writing where there is little editing and the tone tends towards speech. However, anyone writing in any medium should benefit from these ideas.

A few highlights from George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language:

“If you simplify your English, […] when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”

“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.”

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

“What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.”

 

3 thoughts on ““The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

  1. thanks, steven. now whenever i start to write a post on my weblog or an article, i will hear the voice of george orwell (which thanks to western cultural influences will sound like james earl jones) in the back of my head saying,

    “take it easy on the pretentious diction, mr fancy pants.”

  2. I take a lot of flak for using “flowery adjectives” in my writing, especially from one particular friend of mine. But I’ll say now what I said to him in regards to Mr. Orwell’s thoughts, “I get a kick out of doing it, and my writing isn’t expressly for your pleasure, so shut it.”

    After all, in the world of words, cursing is nothing but a crutch for the inarticulate motherfucker (can I say that here?). I’d rather you use big words and know what they mean than avoid them because you don’t want to sound stuffy, or risk confusing the intellectually inept.

    What happened to plain old dignity of language? The Homer Simpsons of the world would have us reduce our language to seventeen words, twelve of which are synonyms for “beer”. If I want to use the word “intelligentsia” I will, and if you don’t know what it means, look it up.

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