Sixty four years ago today, George Orwell died from tuberculosis in a London hospital. Not only was he – in my opinion – the finest writer in English, in Politics and the English Language he left scribblers some of the finest advice.
Here it is…
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
– What am I trying to say?
– What words will express it?
– What image or idiom will make it clearer?
– Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
– Could I put it more shortly?
– Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
– 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.”
I shall be waiting at the bar in the Moon Under Water this evening with two pints poured ready.
Yes, Orwell’s essay on the use of English made a lasting impression on me, too. I could have written “indelible impression”, which would have been fine, but it’s a longer word, and the phrase is well-worn, so I chose lasting instead. Tant pis.