Orwell: Morally wrong to write badly

Posted on Sat 21 May 2011 @ 7.02pm UTC

George Orwell (1903-50) was a literary titan of the 20th century famous for his passion for clarity in language and keen sense of social injustice. His works continue to influence popular and political culture even to this day.

Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) sets out his basic premise that it is morally wrong to write badly. Indeed, the essay is probably still the most elegantly written, concise advice on the how to communicate in honest and clear language.

As an advocate of Plain English, Orwell’s position was that vague writing can be used (and still is being used) as a powerful tool of political and social manipulation.

Orwell recognised that there is “… power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills” (in his 1940 autobiographical note to editors of Twentieth Century Authors).

(“Politics and the English Language” was originally published in Horizon, April 1946, volume 13, issue 76, pages 252-265. It was republished in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1946 and again in 1974.)

We reproduce an annotated version of Orwell’s essay in JPG and PDF formats below.

(Click on thumbnail for larger image)

Download the PDF here (16 pages, 106 kB, right click and “Save as…”)

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© Learn English or Starve, 2011.