Tag Archives: George Orwell

Here’s to Clear Writing

download.jpg   When I taught business writing classes in the corporate world, I used this example from George Orwell (a phenomenal writer whose essays I highly recommend) to illustrate how overwrought language does not impress but does confuse:

 “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.”

I see you scratching your head. Did you read it more than once, hoping to discern a clue? What does this paragraph even mean? I’ll bet you can define all the words yet still cannot explain the meaning of them when laid side by side. So many multi-syllable words—saying what?

Now try this:

“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.”

You are likely familiar with this excerpt from Ecclesiastes, whether you are religious or not. It is saying. “The race is not to the swift” has become a staple of advice in the English language. Although you read an archaic word (“happeneth”), you still understood it.

That unwieldy first paragraph was Orwell deliberately rewriting the portion from Ecclesiastes by using the most convoluted, confusing, off-putting language possible. Just giving a cursory look at both paragraphs, who would choose to read the first one?

The lesson is simple and clear: Rid your writing of pomposity. Use clear, straightforward words. Writing simply will not cause others to assume you are simple-minded; instead, they will look forward to reading what you write. Won’t that be satisfying?

 

 

 

 

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The Seven Forbidden Words

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No, not the ones George Carlin once observed could not be said on TV (but now are  commonly heard). These come from the Trump administration, which informed the Centers for Disease Control that the following words will not be acceptable when preparing the budget for 2018:

-Vulnerable

-Entitlement

-Diversity

-Transgender

-Fetus

-Evidence-based

-Science-based

The CDC is a scientific organization. Try writing for that organization without using the words on the list. If you remember the term “newspeak,” from George Orwell’s 1984,  you may be shuddering, as am I. Here is Merriam-Webster’s definition of newspeak:

propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings

 In other words, reshaping and restructuring language to suit political ends, and the truth be damned.

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