Friday, December 18, 2009

George Orwell's Rules for Writing

Rebel Without a Cause

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At one of the Christmas parties I attended last week, I had an opportunity to meet two college young ladies (in their senior year) and chat with them for a while. Of course, both being English Lit majors I picked their brains the best I could.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that neither one had seen the movies "Rebel Without a Cause" and neither one knew of Chaucer. And on further probing I was shocked to learn that they had never heard of George Orwell either. Any good anthology on writing essays should have George Orwell's indispensable rules for writing. But since generations come and go and we tend to lose much of what we old-timers value, I am reviving these rules:

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.

By the way, when I mentioned that George Orwell --besides great essays-- also wrote some great novels, one of the pretty co-eds said, "I've hear of 1984, but they took it off the reading list."
The writing techniques I use in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual--an indispensable guide:

Sentence Openers

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