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|Four Bad Habits||
|"...This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose. . . .Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged:|
|Dying Metaphors. |
A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically 'dead' (e.g. 'iron resolution') has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness.
But in between those two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.
|Operators or Verbal False Limbs.|
These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry.
Characteristic phrases are
The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as
In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).
Foreign words and phrases such as
Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like It is often easier to make up words. . .(deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, nonfragmentatory, and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
It is often easier to make up words. . .(deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, nonfragmentatory, and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like
Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'. The words
Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the [people who use them have their private definitions, but allow their hearers to think they] mean something quite different.
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.
....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...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 one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase...into the dustbin where it belongs."
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