JS Tip 309: George Orwell's Writing Rules

Tips from Jefferson Smith Training and Consulting

** From the Writing Workshops: George Orwell’s Rules for Writing

In 1946, George Orwell—the author of 1984 and Animal Farm—wrote “Politics and the English Language.”

He was concerned about language: “The English language is in a bad way.”

The essay was brilliant and prophetic. He described then what we see today.

Politicians and powerful people use language to achieve their ends:

Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. . . . People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.”

At the end of his essay, he offered six rules for writing: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

We like these rules. We think you’ll like them too.

We love this stuff.

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