Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: Orwell’s Rules of Writing

 

George Orwell’s rules of writing:

  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 barbarous.

Eric Blair (George Orwell) was one of the most accomplished wordsmiths of the 20th century. These were his guides to writing effectively.I like them, and try to follow them.

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  1. I Shot The Serif Member

    I also like Twain’s advice on substituting a word for ‘very’ that will not make it past the editors and thus will be deleted.

    • #1
    • April 18, 2018, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    I have a copy of Orwell’s rules for writing taped up over my desk.

    (Which is dumb. I already know them. I should really tape it up over all my coworkers’ desks.)

    • #2
    • April 18, 2018, at 9:46 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  3. Vectorman Thatcher

    This conversation is an entry in our Quote of the Day Series. We have only one opening left on the April Schedule. If this reminds you of a quotation that is important to you, why not sign up today?

    • #3
    • April 18, 2018, at 9:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    I shall endeavor to utilize Mr. Blair’s rules as often as possible, especially that bit about not using words too recherche for the task at hand. Instead of succumbing to sesquipedalianism, I’ll keep my wording as simple as ABC.

    • #4
    • April 18, 2018, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  5. KentForrester Moderator

    Orwell’s rule #6 has always struck me as the most inane writing advice ever put to print. It is so general that it is meaningless. It sounds like something a sophomore in college might say

    By the way, I’m a fan of Orwell. 

    Kent

    • #5
    • April 18, 2018, at 10:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Orwell’s rule #6 has always struck me as the most inane writing advice ever put to print. It is so general that it is meaningless.

    Sort of. I think it’s another way of saying “These rules may be broken, but only with good reason and purpose.”

     

    • #6
    • April 18, 2018, at 10:48 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Ralphie Member

    My aunt used to say to add “in bed” at the end of your fortune cookie fortune. The cookie’s fortune I got last night was ” You will be rewarded handsomely for taking the road less traveled.”

    • #7
    • April 18, 2018, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    Ralphie (View Comment):

    My aunt used to say to add “in bed” at the end of your fortune cookie fortune. The cookie’s fortune I got last night was ” You will be rewarded handsomely for taking the road less traveled.”

    Well? Were you . . . y’know, . . . “rewarded handsomely”?

    • #8
    • April 18, 2018, at 11:24 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Ralphie Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Ralphie (View Comment):

    My aunt used to say to add “in bed” at the end of your fortune cookie fortune. The cookie’s fortune I got last night was ” You will be rewarded handsomely for taking the road less traveled.”

    Well? Were you . . . y’know, . . . “rewarded handsomely”?

    I don’t tell, but it is a fun thing to do.

    • #9
    • April 18, 2018, at 11:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Larry3435 Member

    There ought to be something in there about using very few adjectives. I have a bugaboo about adjectives that don’t add any meaning, which is something that police officers seem fond of doing – “we are searching for this particular suspect.”

    • #10
    • April 18, 2018, at 12:38 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Doug Kimball Thatcher

     I prefer El Colonel’s rules for writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that is not as shiny as a newly minted penny.
    2. Never utilize a multisyllabic word when a diminutive word is available for utilization.
    3. Cut out superfluous, unnecessary and redundant adjectives and really useless adverbs.
    4. The passive voice can be avoided by using the active.
    5. Sometime the mot juste is a faux pas.
    6. Sometimes too much honesty can be misconstrued as confession.
    • #11
    • April 18, 2018, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  12. Larry3435 Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I prefer El Colonel’s rules for writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that is not as shiny as a newly minted penny.
    2. Never utilize a multisyllabic word when a diminutive word is available for utilization.
    3. Cut out superfluous, unnecessary and redundant adjectives and really useless adverbs.
    4. Avoid using the passive by using the active.
    5. Sometime the mot juste is a faux pas.
    6. Sometimes too much honesty can be misconstrued as confession.

    Shouldn’t your No. 4 be “Use of the passive voice should be avoided.”?

    • #12
    • April 18, 2018, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Larry3435 (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    I prefer El Colonel’s rules for writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that is not as shiny as a newly minted penny.
    2. Never utilize a multisyllabic word when a diminutive word is available for utilization.
    3. Cut out superfluous, unnecessary and redundant adjectives and really useless adverbs.
    4. Avoid using the passive by using the active.
    5. Sometime the mot juste is a faux pas.
    6. Sometimes too much honesty can be misconstrued as confession.

    Shouldn’t your No. 4 be “Use of the passive voice should be avoided.”?

    I like that!

    • #13
    • April 18, 2018, at 1:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Passive voice is so pretentious. Am I pretentious using pretentious? Will someone get me out of here??

    • #14
    • April 18, 2018, at 2:19 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. KentForrester Moderator

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Passive voice is so pretentious. Am I pretentious using pretentious? Will someone get me out of here??

    Susan, you dug your own hole. Wait, maybe it should be, “The hole was dug by you.”

    Whatever it is, you’ll have to dig yourself out of it.

    Kent

    • #15
    • April 18, 2018, at 2:30 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Passive voice is so pretentious. Am I pretentious using pretentious? Will someone get me out of here??

    Or, as Orwell would say, you are a snob.

    • #16
    • April 18, 2018, at 2:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Randy Webster Member

    I’d like to modify #5 a bit: never use a foreign word or phrase without also including the translation. It infuriates me when an author uses a French phrase, and then goes on blithely as if everyone reads French.

    • #17
    • April 18, 2018, at 4:43 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I’d like to modify #5 a bit: never use a foreign word or phrase without also including the translation. It infuriates me when an author uses a French phrase, and then goes on blithely as if everyone reads French.

    But it always gives one’s writing that certain je ne sais quoi.

    • #18
    • April 18, 2018, at 5:05 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eschew grandiloquence?

    Oh, okay.

    • #19
    • April 19, 2018, at 6:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

    If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

    Dorothy Parker

    • #20
    • April 19, 2018, at 7:10 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. ctlaw Coolidge

    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    Perfectly fine for literature. But when writing technical or legal documents you should rarely sacrifice precision for readability. 

    If the long word, foreign phrase, or scientific word is at all more precise than the short or everyday word, use the former.

    A side benefit of using the long word, foreign phrase, or scientific word is that it is more likely to be properly translated (or not translated at all). Translation often introduces error. A simple word may receive a casual subtle mistranslation, whereas the long word, foreign phrase, or scientific word may induce greater care in the translator.

    Note, I have not yet addressed “jargon”. I regard jargon as something likely to be regarded as very precise to a certain audience, but likely to be misunderstood by another. Thus, jargon should be used but explained to gain the benefits of precision for both audiences.

    • #21
    • April 19, 2018, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Stad Thatcher

    Seawriter:

    • 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 use 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 barbarous.

    These “rules” are well and good. However, dialogue is different. People speak using metaphors, long words, foreign phrases, jargon, and so forth.

    And never say “never”. Passive voice should be avoided, but it can used if the situation calls for it (which isn’t often). In addition, evil characters often say things barbarous, but that falls under dialogue.

    One rule I’ve come to follow recently involves the overuse or misuse of the word “that”. More often than not, it’s either superfluous, or better if replaced with “who” or “which”. One author I’m currently reading uses “that” way too often. I even read one sentence which contained the word “that” three times. It was a painful experience.

    I have Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It has several rules which I gleefully break, but Rule #10 stands out:

    “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

    I try to eliminate scenes and dialogue that add nothing to the story. (Couldn’t avoid using “that” here!)

    • #22
    • April 19, 2018, at 7:26 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.

    If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

    Dorothy Parker

    You have got to love Dorothy Parker. Also I read Homage to Catalonia last year and have other G Orwell on my (never goin’ to happen because I will die first) reading list. It helped to explain the ‘attraction’ of communism/socialism.

    • #23
    • April 19, 2018, at 7:41 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Roderic Coolidge

    Seawriter:
    George Orwell’s rules of writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

     

    Good if you’re writing the next great novel, but for everyday communication a familiar trope may be most appropriate. Attempting to come up with new figures of speech all the time can make one seem solipsistic.

    • #24
    • April 19, 2018, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. ctlaw Coolidge

    Stad (View Comment):
    These “rules” are well and good. However, dialogue is different. People speak using metaphors, long words, foreign phrases, jargon, and so forth.

    Similar issues attend run-on sentences. In dialogue, people may speak in slight run-on sentences (e.g., perhaps up to 25 words). They do not speak in 100-word run on sentences.

    Even aside from dialogue, a moderate multi-clause sentence of 25 words or so can be quite readable in literature. But most people are not creating literature and they abuse long sentences. Often, it you diagram a long sentence, it literally means the opposite of what the writer intended. Or it is indescipherable.

    Unless you are Andrew Klavan or Ann Coulter, stick with subject, verb, object!

    • #25
    • April 19, 2018, at 8:37 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. ctlaw Coolidge

    Roderic Fabian (View Comment):

    Seawriter:
    George Orwell’s rules of writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

     

    Good if you’re writing the next great novel, but for everyday communication a familiar trope may be most appropriate. Attempting to come up with new figures of speech all the time can make one seem solipsistic.

    Orwell is not instructing people “to come up with new figures of speech all the time”. For “everyday communication” you do not need familiar tropes or new figures of speech.

    • #26
    • April 19, 2018, at 8:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The only rule of good writing is: Know what you are doing.

    Concision or eloquence, long or short, active or passive, 1st-person or 3rd-person, traditionally punctuated or avant-garde, etc — These are stylistic preferences with large reader markets in either direction. The important thing is for every element to be deliberate, at least in the hindsight of editing. 

    Heaven forbid that all writers try to be Hemingway.

    • #27
    • April 19, 2018, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    Stad (View Comment):
    These “rules” are well and good. However, dialogue is different. People speak using metaphors, long words, foreign phrases, jargon, and so forth.

    Yup. One thing that turns me off about some recent television shows is the need to have every bit of dialogue be something witty, snarky, or just inflated diction. It can sound very forced.

    • #28
    • April 19, 2018, at 9:26 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Doug Kimball Thatcher

    Roderic Fabian (View Comment):

    Seawriter:
    George Orwell’s rules of writing:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    Good if you’re writing the next great novel, but for everyday communication a familiar trope may be most appropriate. Attempting to come up with new figures of speech all the time can make one seem solipsistic.

    Only if you write only for yourself, like a vintner who makes wine only for his own consumption. If he gets drunk, is anyone aware of it but him?

    • #29
    • April 19, 2018, at 11:27 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. MarciN Member

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Perfectly fine for literature. But when writing technical or legal documents you should rarely sacrifice precision for readability.

    If the long word, foreign phrase, or scientific word is at all more precise than the short or everyday word, use the former.

    Nicely said, or as publishers say, form follows function.

    The most important guide for clear writing is to formulate a purpose and stick to it.

    • #30
    • April 19, 2018, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • 3 likes

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