Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Words Are My Tools

As an attorney, writing is most often the most important task I perform each day.  Since my profession requires so much writing, it is with some embarrassment that I admit that I have only recently read George Orwell's classic 1946 essay on good writing,  Politics and the English Language.

According to Orwell, a scrupulous writer, he will ask himself at least four questions in every sentence he writes:

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:
[5]. Could I put it more shortly?
[6]. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Fortunately or unfortunately, my law practice affords me few chances to explore the universe of metaphor.  However, I constantly ask myself questions 1, 2, and 6.  Especially 6.  I may be extremely dorky, but some of the most fun I have at work is writing in as clear and concise language as possible.

Orwell closes his essay with some great rules of thumb:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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