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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Orwell's Third Rule

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Orwell could have just said "Avoid wordiness" or "Be pithy." Instead, he opted for a longer version, a periphrasis. 16 syllables instead of my three or five. The shorter versions would be "possible," but maybe not desirable. I am a concise writer, but not every idea should be expressed in the most compressed, aphoristic mode. After all, with a maxim or proverb we often have to gloss or explain further.

For my taste, Orwell's essay is itself written in a verbose style. I'm not trying to play "gotcha' or "tu quoque" here, but simply to point out that pithiness is a relative judgment.

2 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

Compare what a different style resulted from Bunting's "Cut every word you dare" (which has the additional merit of not falling short of the ideal it expresses).

Vance Maverick said...

In fact, I wonder, thinking on this, whether Orwell was naturally prolix, and had to whip himself constantly with this thought to keep his prose as trim as it is -- real concision not being possible at his journalistic pace.