If You Care About Good Writing, You Must Read “Politics and the English Language”

Photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

My goal, most of the time, for this blog, is to find recent quotes on writing, marketing, etc. that educate, inspire, and validate my point of view. I prefer recent quotes because a) they’re usually more salient and b) I like pop culture. But then there are those few, rare pearls of wisdom that have remained unblemished since their inception eons ago and are always, no matter how much time has passed, worth reiterating.

Case in point: George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.”

George_Orwell_press_photo
George Orwell

In the essay, Orwell (the guy who wrote that little-known novel 1984), criticizes the “ugly and inaccurate” written English of his time.

The sad part: his criticisms are still applicable today (arguably more so than ever). The happy part: his advice is still just as helpful.

“Politics and the English Language,” is in the all-time-best-writing-advice canon, and it’s applicable to every topic, not just politics. I happen to have a background in public policy, so that’s how I discovered it, but I believe all writers–from politicos to people who couldn’t care less about who is president (you should though, for the record)–should read this essay and adhere to its advice like white on rice.

Here are a few especially notable tidbits from Orwell’s essay:

“The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.”

 

“What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.”

And my personal favorite:

“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements.”

Read the complete essay.

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