Before you write anything, ask yourself these questions

Says George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

More here.

See also: George Orwell at Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

The present political chaos is connected with the decay of language

One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change ones own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.

via George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946.

Management abuses of language increase “exponentially”

via FT.com:

The word “exponential” has taken a lot of abuse from managers who use it to describe any growth that is more than sluggish. Whereas in maths an exponential graph goes swiftly from almost flat to almost vertical, this pattern is seldom traced by any market I’ve ever come across.

But now the term seems to have slipped free of its mathematical moorings altogether: living “exponentially” involves having “quality time with yourself” and “living in your own truth”.

Speaking from the vantage point of my own truth, I find some things are truer than others. Truest of all are mathematical truths, and it is therefore upsetting to see them being pilfered shamelessly by innumerate managers eager to lend an aura of fact to what is usually a glob of guff.

Slang

A language with its sleeves rolled up and its necktie loosened. (…) [I]t is “the language that says ‘no’. No to piety, to religion, to ideology and all its permutations, to honour, nobility, patriotism and their kindred infantilisms (…)”.

It is all those words we wouldn’t utter in a job interview or in front of a maiden aunt. And it is an endless source of pleasure, which explains why dictionaries of slang are so appealing.

via TLS.

From criticizing to providing feedback

At one point, people used to “criticize” each other. But then it was too harsh and hurtful to criticize, so instead, people started “giving criticism” to each other. (Notice the shift from a direct to a more indirect voice.) This was still too hard for many, so then we start to “give constructive criticism.” (Note the addition of a positive adjective — lessening the impact of a negative phrase.)But this was too long to say so then we stopped giving constructive criticism and started “to critique” — which has come to mean “high end criticism.” This then gave way to “giving critiques” (note the same pattern of lessening the impact by turning it from a verb into a noun). This one, however, didn’t last, and was quickly replaced by “giving feedback,” which then became “providing feedback” (note give — provide adds an additional syllable: longer words conceal more than smaller words do) — which is where we remain today.

Although we’re still “giving/providing feedback” today, that’s just starting to be replaced by its successor: “providing developmental feedback.” (Note, again, another example of adding a positive adjective to a negative phrase.)

This pattern is more invidious than it seems to be at face value: big words often hide big deeds, and big deeds are more often than not bad deeds. One of the key weapons in fighting the laziness of thought (and all the problems that derive from this) is through clarity in language. (Random thoughts)

Ten grammar gaffes

So here we are in the era of Word’s red-underline “wrong spelling, dumb ass” feature and Outlook’s Always Check Spelling Before Sending option, and still the mistakes proliferate. Catching typos is easy (although not everyone does it). It’s the other stuff — correctly spelled but incorrectly wielded — that sneaks through and makes us look stupid. Here’s a quick review of some of the big ones.

#1: Loose for lose

#2: It’s for its (or god forbid, its’)

#3: They’re for their for there

#4: i.e. for e.g.

 

#5: Effect for affect

#6: You’re for your

#7: Different than for different from

#8 Lay for lie

 

#9: Then for than

#10: Could of, would of for could have, would have

(Source: ZDnet)

Writing tips from Big Brother

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

He will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. 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:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (George Orwell: 12 Writing Tips)

The original essay is Politics and the English Language. “Big Brother” is from Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.