Monday, October 1, 2007

Orwellian Criticism: Clean up Your Writing!

In my search for grammar tools, I came across the Plain Language site that, in turn, led me to this lovely George Orwell essay from 1946 about the decline of language. I've seen pieces of it around the Internet but have never read the full text. It outlines problems to which writers of many stripes fall prey and serves as a useful reminder to writers of what to avoid.

When you write something to be read, that is when you compose something for publication rather than for the sheer enjoyment of playing with words, Orwell’s objections form an excellent guide to what not to do. Consider this quote:

“…modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake
of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It
consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in
order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”
Does that sound like anything you’ve read recently? Does it remind you, perhaps, of a badly written SEO article? I find some consolation in the fact that people have written such garbage for decades, if not longer. I am amused picturing Orwell reviewing the contents of some of the worse blogs and less-choose article directories, as well.

Mostly, however, I find a new determination to write better. While I have fun constructing flowery phrases and complicated sentences, my intended audience may not enjoy reading them. Writers in general, and I in particular, need to keep that in mind.