George Orwell on Writing

“If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.” – George Orwell, 1946

I recently came across this gem of an essay by George Orwell. It’s on writing and political discourse. You can Read the essay HERE!

Granted, this essay is specifically speaking of political language and he points out that he wasn’t talking about the merits of the literary use of language. However, I think there are some solid advice that a writer in most any setting can gladly follow and learn from. Here are a few of his highlights (the NOTES are my thoughts):

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  (NOTE: This will force us to keep our language fresh!)

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do. (NOTE: As my former professor used to say: KISS – Keep it simple, stupid. It’s not always necessary to sound so pretentious.)

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (NOTE: Why be unnecessarily wordy? Words should be purposeful, not painful.)

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active. (NOTE: OK.)

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (NOTE: OK, I’ll remember that.)

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (NOTE: I must remember this one, too.)

Don’t you agree that these simple rules will help anyone’s writing?

In closing, I’d like to go back to the opening quote:  “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”

I agree that simplified English can in fact do this. I once had a proofreader, very talented one, who was still too close to their AP English classes to be able to understand how I broke the orthodoxy of English. She would often say, “That’s now what my teacher says”, etc … Writers are meant to be free from constraints and conventions, to express simple truths with simple, straight forward ways which can be profoundly easy to understand yet challenging to ponder.

George Orwell says the way to go is to simplify. I agree.

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