The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Reading Stephen Pickering's NY Times piece on the recent PSAT error reminded me of George Orwell's excellent essay from 1946, "Politics and the English Language".

Half a century later, Orwell still makes a lot of good points; and I can say that knowing full well that I break several of his rules of clarity every day. I can't say that I even strive to simplify my own, personal work (which includes this website). But at work, it's a big part of my routine.

I also present a link to the essay as an inspiration to the general blogging community. Lord knows I've seen enough incomprehensible blogs that could stand a dose of clarity. As Orwell points out:

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.