Brain Food #642

To think one thing and say another

Thoughts of the day

Today would have been George Orwell’s birthday.

Orwell wrote six novels in his lifetime, his most famous and (particularly recently) celebrated being 1984, a dystopian science fiction tale about a totalitarian world of mass surveillance and manipulation, and the dangers of not being able to think for oneself.

Winston, 1984’s protagonist, famously said, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” Sometimes the ability to think and speak for oneself, free from ideologies, might be considered a flaw, even when stating objective truths. This is exactly where the power of language lies, something Orwell himself often focused on. To find the right words to express oneself, especially when those words are not available or acceptable, can be a revolutionary act, in multiple areas of life.

How often do you think one thing but say something else? Why?

Orwell’s views on writing were, thankfully, far more sensible than his views on various other social matters. Coming from a man who openly wrote about the infinite power that language has, perhaps there is something to be learned and put to use from these rules:

  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 a word out, 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.