Quote of the Day 1-18-16 (from the best essay in ages)

Posted: January 17, 2016 in Anarchism, Language Use, Politics
Tags: ,

“There seems to be an agreement on the left that it is better to write in the style of badly-translated Hegel than to write like John Steinbeck. It is even easier, provided you don’t care to be understood. . . .

“[W]hile many of the examples in [George Orwell’s] ‘Politics and the English Language’ are now very much out of date, Orwell’s advice remains sound. He offers one general principle, six rules, and six questions.

“The principle is: ‘Let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.’

“The rules are:

  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 out a word, 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.

“It is worth noting that, were there a contemporary anarchist style guide, nearly all of these rules would be reversed: Only use figures of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a short word if a long word is available; If it is possible to add a word, always add it in; Never use the active voice where you might use the passive; Always use a foreign phrase or jargon word if the everyday English word can be avoided; And write barbarously rather than violate any of these rules.

“No one has formalized such commandments, and no one has had to. The slow drift of the language, and the overall cloudiness of our thought, allows us to adopt such practices without trying, and often, without consciously recognizing it. To break such habits, however, requires a conscious effort.”

–Kristian Williams, “Anarchism and the English Language


NOTE: “Anarchism and the English Language” is the best essay I’ve read in years. It applies across the board to all political language, not just anarchist usage. I’d urge anyone interested in clear political writing–in fact, in clear writing of any sort–to read it.

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