How does George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" improve students' abilities to craft writing?

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"All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia," George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language. Orwell believed that the dictatorships in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia were evil, and that imprecise and misleading language was...

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"All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia," George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language. Orwell believed that the dictatorships in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia were evil, and that imprecise and misleading language was used to justify their excesses. For example, a defender of Stalin's Russia would not say, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Instead, a pro-Soviet writer would refer to it as an "Elimination of Unreliable Elements."

George Orwell was not only motivated by the misuse of language by defenders of totalitarianism. He also was disdainful of all intellectuals in general. This is surprising when you consider that Orwell himself was an outstanding intellectual.

Orwell favored clarity and simplicity, and these preferences featured prominently in his "rules" for English.

Use of metaphors reduces clarity, Orwell thought. For example, the metaphor "drowning in money" should not be used in place of "rich" for describing the wealthy.

Orwell favored simplicity and brevity. For instance, unnecessary words should be omitted. Simpler words such as "use" should be used instead of "utilize" in one's writing. Jargon and other obscure or pretentious words are best avoided.

The passive should be avoided, Orwell cautioned. In typical English, sentences follow the subject-predicate pattern: Children in many nations study English. The passive is as follows: English is studied by children in many nations. Good writers use the former and not the latter construction.

Are Orwell's guidelines still useful in 2019? I believe they are. But his rules are too few and do not offer sufficient guidance. Serious writers still need The Elements of Style or another comprehensive guide.

Orwell would probably lament both the state of written English today and its use by some contemporary political leaders. He would bemoan the rise of populist leaders and their use of the English language to defend their policies. His books are more popular today than previously, as more readers are trying to understand contemporary politics.

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