Such a turnaround, he argues, hinges on our collective ability to uproot the “bad habits which spread by imitation,” an act of personal and political responsibility for each of us.
Citing several passages as examples of such perilous abuse of language, he points to the two qualities they have in common — “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision” — and lists the most prevalent of the “bad habits” responsible for this “mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence” that poisons the English language: Many decades before our era of listicles, formulaic Buzz Worthy headlines, and the sort of cliché-laden articles that result from a factory-farming model of online journalism, Orwell follows his morphology of misuses with a timely admonition: Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer.
That's why Orwell himself doesn’t always obey them.
Of the tensed transitive verbs in “Politics and the English Language”, at least a fifth are in the passive voice.
But, as Mr Liberman documents in many examples, has repeatedly referred to shrouds, nightmares, contagions and deer caught in headlights in our own pages.
The problem is the absolute nature of Orwell’s rules.Never say “never” and always avoid “always”, or at the least handle them with care.Overusing such words is an invitation for critics to hold you to your own impossible standard.His “catalogue of swindles and perversions” remains a remarkable clarion call for mindfulness in writing.Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.(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.My colleague, too, referred to Orwell’s rules, suggesting that bad writing of this (and other) kinds could be avoided by following them.Yet Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and a blogger at Language Log, has taken us to task.Orwell says “never” use metaphors you are used to seeing in print.Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.Noting that the decline of language isn’t “due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer” but, rather, has deeper political and economic causes, Orwell nonetheless offers the optimistic assurance that this downturn is reversible.