Journal: News & Comment

Friday, January 17, 2003
# 4:35:00 PM:

A sprightly senior

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As a writer, I shouldn't even admit that until today I'd never read George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language," only the famous excerpt where he mangles a passage from the Bible by turning it into modern jargon. Scott Rosenberg of Salon suggests reading the essay once a year, much as I recommend doing with Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Orwell proclaims:

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?

The essay is approaching age 60 -- Orwell wrote it in 1946 -- yet it is as fresh as ever, and especially relevant in our time of war-that-isn't-war and other political obfuscations. Read it yourself.


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