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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Essay - Politics and the English language

Category: Professional

An essay written by Geroge Orwell in 1946 on Politics and the English language.

Why does one write?
To convey a message, to communicate. If a sentence doesn't do that, it should not be written.

- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word, always do it.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image.
A metaphor should be used to help readers visualize.

Why are legal texts so pretentious and difficult to understand? That's because they try to make matters unclear, obfuscate it, and on that pretext get away with legal jargon. Even the non-disclosure agreements, which we sign, have a legal tone, and people don't even read them, before signing on the dotted line.

I read the complete four page non-disclosure agreement and couldn't agree more. It was a maze of legality, which could be used in any way to help the employer. Most of the non-disclosure agreements follow a similar tone.

To quote from the above essay-

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms..."

A note to myself: When I start my company, I am going to write the non-disclosure agreement in simple English, which an English speaker can understand, without the help of a lawyer.