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George Orwell says,
"Let the Meaning Choose the Word"

excerpts from George Orwell "Politics and the English Language", in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (1946) Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1974.

Four Bad Habits

1. Dying Metaphors

2. Verbal False Limbs

3. Pretentious Diction

4. Meaningless Words


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.

Examples are:
Ring the changes on..., toe the line, ride roughshod over, hotbed.
Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning, and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what [s/he] is saying.

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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
render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc.

The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as
break, stop, spoil, mend, kill,
a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as
prove, serve, form, play, render.

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).
The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formation, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced with such phrases as
with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that;
and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as
greatly to be desired, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion and so on and so forth.

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Pretentious Diction.

Words like
phenomenon, element, objective, categorical, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.

Adjectives like
epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being:
realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.

Foreign words and phrases such as
cul de sac, mutatis mutandis, status quo, weltanschauung,
are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., [et al.] and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English.

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
expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous
and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers....

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.

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Meaningless Words.

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
romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality,
as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, 'The outstanding feature of [x]'s work is its living quality', while another writes 'The immediately striking thing about [x]'s work is its peculiar deadness,' the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, [s/he] would see at once that language was being used in an improper way.

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
democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice,
have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: Consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

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.

Statements like
[x] was a true patriot, The [national] press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution,
are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are
class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality....


Orwell's Six 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.

....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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