Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, September 23, 2021

Something occurred to me while reading this NPR appreciation of George Orwell’s classic essay “Politics and the English Language”.

Note Orwell’s six simple rules for cleaner diction:

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 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.

Essentially, Orwell advocates lean, mean writing. Which is what has been the basic rule of thumb for Web-writing, pretty much since day one.

Orwell wrote his essay 60 years ago. It was less an effort to dumb-down interpersonal and media communications than an attempt to avoide the general verbal obuscation that accompanies propaganda; the idea was to give socio-political manipulators fewer words behind which to hide.

So… Can we draw from this that the Internet is the ultimate anti-totalitarian communication medium? If the ideal in Web communications is to keep it short and simple, then you could argue that Orwell’s vision has been somewhat realized. And not just for text, but for audiovisual too: Media snippets in the forms of songs, short film clips, podcasts and the like point to short-form as the dominant format for Web content. It’s all short and to the point — Orwell’s vision realized.

I’m not sure Orwell would have envisioned his precepts taking hold as blog posts and IMs. But we can’t always choose the fulfillments of our visions.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 09/23/2006 08:06:50 PM
Category: Internet, History, Wordsmithing | Permalink |

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  1. orwell’s vision realized? i think not. as corporations continue to try to control how we can use the internet, the information control that was central to orwell’s writing may come to us. from issues of net neutrality to corporations trying to control you tube, the internet has never faced such an orwellian threat to communication.

    Comment by Daedalus — 09/23/2006 @ 10:29:55 PM

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