Monday, August 25, 2008

Say it simple!

In Politics and the English Language (1946), George Orwell provides six rules for writers:
  • 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 voice 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
He also suggests that a scrupulous writer should ask himself at least four questions in every sentence that he writes:
  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
For example, he presents well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all
Here it is in bad English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account

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