More zest, less conformity.
That’s another kettle of fish. Rule of thumb. Two birds with one stone. Take it offline. Double click.
Known for evergreen zingers like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, George Orwell has a different target in Politics and the English Language. In his cross-hairs? verbal laziness and conformity.
To resist becoming an object at rest, Orwell warns against:
Dying metaphors - such as the five above
Stale imagery - women laughing with salad, I think he means you
Lack of precision - root word: to cut (cf. scissors)
Pretentious diction - #dontquotelatin #idefinitelyquotelatin
Meaningless words - if you can cut it, cut it (scissors!)
Lifeless orthodoxy - Orwell targets politics; I’d add corporate speak
Verbs to phrases - e.g. make itself felt, have the effect of
Passive voice - see: Hamilton’s 7 Sins of Writing
Orwell’s list is great. What would make it greater? Being bold and avoid…
…thinking your voice doesn’t matter (it does)
…assuming what you have to say has already been said (it hasn’t; you’re the Only you)
…letting “Thought Leaders” and “Influencers” crowd out Do Leaders
If we avoid the above, then we can absorb this Orwellian list:
What am I trying to say? Which words can best express it?
What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.(already said this, so, scissors!)
Have I said anything avoidably ugly?
Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Take a word from Nilofer Merchant and ponder:
What are people getting wrong about X? What’s your take?
What do most people miss that you don’t?
What does your unique experience teach the world?
As for being evocative with living metaphors, imagery, and words… a few spices from the the autobiographical coffee table book I will write someday:
The Zeitgeist. German for ghost or spirit of our times, ask: what’s on everyone’s hearts, minds, memes? Summon it, engage it, be it.
Generational Zeitgeist. When was your audience born? Play their karaoke go-to; namecheck their Bop Magazine coverboy crush; fire up the VCR to play their ‘when I’m home sick’ VHS.
Memorable Word Play. Two birds, one scone. Great minds like a think®. Illustrious aliterations; lucious language; be’a’onomatopoeia.
Nature & Science. Seasons. The Elements. Botany. Zoology. Space.
Arts & Humanities. Quote n’ quotables. Potent potables. Movements, moments, makers.
The Simone Biles. Combine the hardest moves. Nail the landing.
Lest you be discouraged, Orwell motivates us all:
But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you—even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent—and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.
Invite your intuition to speak. I can’t wait to hear what it has to say.
And if you prefer another medium of expression, count me in there, too.
p.s. thank you for letting me try new things.
Orwell, George. 2013. Politics and the English Language. Penguin Modern Classics. London, England: Penguin Classics. (Originally published: 1946).
Photo Credits: Beware of dead meta-fours & Marilyn, mom, palms are CC BY-SA 4.0 Leslie Bradshaw.