Daily Archives: November 29, 2012

On Orwell’s “Writing Tips”

A user on Reddit’s r/writing board posted a link to George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” with the headline “Awesome writing tips by George Orwell”.

I would suggest that the value in Orwell’s essay is not the list of “tips” or rules, but in understanding his point. The important things to learn from this essay, to me, are things like this:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: 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 henhouse.

It’s important to start to recognize when one’s writing begins to slip into this kind of lazy mode, where one starts to use phrases not because they are right, but because they are easy.

I absolutely believe Orwell is correct in thinking that our language affects our thoughts, and our thoughts affect our language. We need to be on guard, especially, when we talk about the things that we believe in most strongly. We get into the warm bath of friendly ideas and it’s easy to just say the things that confirm them; they keep us from thinking, from challenging our assumptions, from doing the hard mental work that has to be done sometimes.

Poor writing is often a product of poor thinking. That’s what Orwell is really talking about in this essay. The list of “tips” are pointless if we do not acknowledge and seek to address this root problem.