Monday, February 09, 2004
One thing that pops into my mind again and again as I read these articles and comments for editing is my wish that every single person who writes substantial amounts of nonfiction would read and take to heart Orwell's underappreciated essay, Politics and the English Language. It bluntly states what I consider to be one of the central lessons that Orwell wanted to communicate in 1984, that sloppy writing is not just a symptom, but a cause, of sloppy thinking.
It also contains the famous "Orwell's Rules for Writers:"
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never us 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.
I'm not quite sure why the writers of law review articles and comments seemingly feel compelled to violate all of these rules as frequently as possible. Maybe they think it makes them sound sophisticated. Maybe, like myself, they are trying to cover up the fact that they don't fully understand to the level that they would like whatever it is they are writing about. (I usually feel that it is simply impossible, given the sheer volume of legal materials and theories, to understand a subject completely enough to satisfy me.) Whatever the reason, it is unimaginably frustrating to see these kinds of stylistic atrocities and be powerless as a mere grammar and citation editor to do anything about it.
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