The English language and your ideas

I read this post on Hack / Make, and I liked the George Orwell essay…, so I am passing it along.


Words are powerful tools. Mastering the English language will make your life easier. Speaking clearly is necessary in life and business [to conduct and complete].

George Orwell, in his essay Politics and the English Language (first published in 1946), says: “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward…” In essence, writers need to put in the effort in order to get  their ideas across. And, even with clear communication, that doesn’t mean your ideas will be well received, but, Orwell believes:

You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you—even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent—and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.

Success in communicating ideas comes from truly understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, so that you can then translate thoughts into things that can actually be said or done [actionable]. The higher altitude something is, the harder it is to explain…

When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

Having a clear, concrete idea allows the writer to find the right words to express it.

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.

So, start with the idea, and then let the idea(s) choose the words. Dropping meaningless words and phrases from your vocabulary is a start, but how do you shape your words into something concise? Orwell offers some steps to form clear sentences.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1. What words will express it?

2. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

3. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And, he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Relentlessly desire to express your ideas clearly, and put in the effort to remove abstraction, while constantly editing your ideas and words along the way. It will take more time and more effort, but by using these steps, you will gain the trust and understanding of the people around you. Source: Hack / Make. 

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