Advice from the Masters: George Orwell

Aug 6, 2014 | Better Writing

George Orwell was the pen name used by Eric Arthur Blair. He’s best known for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm. I love them both, but neither one is my favorite Orwell book.

In 1936, Orwell went to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. Instead of reporting, he enlisted to fight against Franco. The result was the book, Homage to Catalonia, which is my favorite George Orwell book.

Orwell wrote lots of things and he’s famous for his delightful phrasing and sense of irony. If you want a sense of that, and the sheer brilliance of Orwell as a phrase maker, take a few moments and browse through the Wikiquote section on George Orwell.

What follows is something Orwell wrote for himself, but which has become known as his “Little Rules for Writing.” They’re taken from “Politics and the English Language.”

“(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use 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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