Orwell claims that bad writing results from corrupt thinking, and often attempts to make palatable corrupt acts: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
Pay attention to how the next article, interview, or book you read uses language “favorable to political conformity” to soften terrible things.
Orwell’s analysis identifies several culprits that obscure meaning and lead to whole paragraphs of bombastic, and empty prose:
- 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 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.
But Orwell does preface his guidelines with some very sound advice: “Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose—not simply accept—the phrases that will best cover the meaning.” Not only does this practice get us closer to using clear, specific, concrete language, but it results in writing that grounds our readers in the sensory world we all share to some degree, rather than the airy word of abstract thought and belief that we don’t.
These “elementary” rules do not cover “the literary use of language,” writes Orwell, “but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”
You can find Orwell’s books here