Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
(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.
My colleague, too, referred to Orwell’s rules, suggesting that bad writing of this (and other) kinds could be avoided by following them.
Such a turnaround, he argues, hinges on our collective ability to uproot the “bad habits which spread by imitation,” an act of personal and political responsibility for each of us.
Citing several passages as examples of such perilous abuse of language, he points to the two qualities they have in common — “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision” — and lists the most prevalent of the “bad habits” responsible for this “mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence” that poisons the English language: Many decades before our era of listicles, formulaic Buzz Worthy headlines, and the sort of cliché-laden articles that result from a factory-farming model of online journalism, Orwell follows his morphology of misuses with a timely admonition: Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer.
But, as Mr Liberman documents in many examples, has repeatedly referred to shrouds, nightmares, contagions and deer caught in headlights in our own pages.
The problem is the absolute nature of Orwell’s rules.A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? Complement this particular excerpt with more perennial pointers on writing, including Zadie Smith on the two psychologies for writing, Vladimir Nabokov on the three qualities of a great storyteller, Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing, Walter Benjamin’s thirteen doctrines, Henry Miller’s eleven commandments, Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing with style, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings. It takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and compose, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in what I do, please consider becoming a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good lunch. Claim yours: is in its twelfth year and because I write primarily about ideas of a timeless character, I have decided to plunge into my vast archive every Wednesday and choose from the thousands of essays one worth resurfacing and resavoring.has a free Sunday digest of the week's most interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children's books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning. Subscribe to this free midweek pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit below — it is separate from the standard Sunday digest of new pieces: participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon.The first five all include either a “never” or an “always”.Critics point out that a strict application of these rules would make for very strange writing.But was Orwell aiming to mislead when he told writers never to use the passive? He merely failed to hold himself to this rule at all times.That simply makes him human—a frailty shared by journalists at (Well, most journalists; our science editor we're not always sure about.) Orwell accommodated poetic license in his sixth rule: “Break any of these rules rather than say something outright barbarous.” A hint of flexibility. Indeed, here are his rules liberated from those dogmatic “nevers” and the “always”:(i) Avoid using metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print.Decades later, Orwell’s essay endures as a spectacular guide to writing well — an increasingly urgent reminder that language is first and foremost a tool of thought which, when misused or trivialized, does a tremendous cultural disservice to both reader and writer.Much like clichés poison language through their contagiousness, Orwell argues that our carelessness with the written word is propagated, in a meme-like fashion, by our relinquishing of deliberate thought in favor of lazy, automatic replication.The most relevant of the rules, in this context was of course number (i).Avoiding clichés keeps writers from crafting a lazy string of mixed metaphors, such as a nightmare casting a shroud in a guise of contagion that resembled a deer so unlucky as to be both caught in headlights and paralysed.