eve of destruction

>> Sunday, March 9, 2008

There are very few events in my life I describe as "life-changing". Mostly this is because changes tend to occur in small increments and over time and the results are only noticeable in retrospect. But a very few short events are life altering and their effects are immediately apparent. I would describe my introduction to George Orwell in this way.
Assigned as required reading in grade 12 (prior to my reading 1984 the next year) was his essay, Politics and the English Language. I remember my classmates making really intelligent observations such as "but the term 'pretentious diction' is... pretentious!" while I sat there absorbing the genius my young mind had just been exposed to. It changed my conception of what good writing was, and by extension the way I wrote myself. Like many 16-year olds I had been given to using unnecessarily long or 'fancy' words wherever possible to show off how much I knew. But Orwell showed me the error of my ways. Not only was I being silly, but I was (worse!) contributing to the decline of the English language. Since then I have developed a great love affair with being both clear and concise. Orwell's essay taught me to think about what I write (and say) and what I hope to accomplish through each. If the purpose of language is to communicate with others, then we should pay attention to how well we are doing just that.

I haven't perfected anything (no kidding) but I have tried. Every once in a while one of the rules pops into my head: if it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out! (probably my favourite one). It's also the work I most recommend (/insist) to friends that they read.

And so, I insist again:

Politics and the English Language

2 comments:

Carrie March 17, 2008 at 2:37 PM  

It's a ballin essay dude; it's SO much harder to write less than more, and those who can do it are the best writers ever.

b April 5, 2008 at 6:08 PM  

I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead (paraphrased quote from someone famous).

More importantly, why hasn't everyone already read this essay!

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