Wednesday, July 22, 2009

George Orwell on Writing

Fran Porretto had a link to an essay by George Orwell on proper writing technique in one of his recent posts which I found to be extremely enlightening:

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a 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 modern 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.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one.
I for one know that I am incredibly guilty of this unforgivable literary sin, and I hereby pledge to cut down on my abuse of the English language. It really is quite pretentious and unnecessary to write this way. Back in school, I always got compliments for my writing abilities, mostly because I was pretty good at writing that kind of garbage. It impresses people for some reason, much more so than actually articulating anything insightful, it seems. But Orwell is right, and I'm glad Fran provided the link. Who knows? Maybe if I put in a little more effort it will make my ramblings more readable. People might actually start reading this blog... There is more to this essay than writing style. I recommend you read the rest of it, even if you have no intention of ever being a writer. He goes on to discuss the way this habit of using pre-assembled verbage becomes an influence on the actual message of the writing and even the mind of the writer. The structure of words begin to dictate the structures of thought. Mind control through language ... scary! And it seems to me that it is true. Orwell was the master at seeing these kinds of things. Maybe I should start reading a bit of Orwell, too. Gary North brings up this topic quite a bit as well, with the same general opinion: simpler is better. But in this essay, Orwell proves to me just how critical the issue actually is. Gary had his points, but now I am finally fully persuaded. It is time to make the change for good.


  1. "It is time to make the change for good"

    or do you mean:

    "Intellectual assessment of narcissistic literation methods would presuppose a less verbose modus operandi in dissemination of personal cognition propitious and less obfuscating."

  2. Exactly! You've got a future in academia, I can feel it.

    I thought I'd respond with some highfalutin' language, but there's no way I can top that.

    Seriously, though, wasn't that a fantastic essay? I'd only known George Orwell from Animal Farm and 1984.