English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Orwell on Bad English, by Al Drake

Al Drake | Cyber Cafe | Thurs. 6-7 | 714-434-1612

1. “I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.” (Professor Harold Laski, essay in Freedom of Expression.)

2. “Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate or put at a loss for bewilder.” (Professor Lancelot Hogben, Interglossa.)

3. “On the one side we have the free personality: By definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?” (Essay on psychology in Politics, New York.)

4. “While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.” (Orwell's own example of bloodless writing about Stalin's atrocities. Rottenberg 607)

5. Here are two versions of a passage from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9.11). The first is the real thing, and the second is Orwell's “modernization” of it:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Finally, Orwell's six rules for writing good prose, which must invariably be taken into account:

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 [voice] 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.” From “The Politics of the English Language” in Elements of Argument. A.T. Rottenberg, Boston: St. Martin's, 1991.