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Orwell on writing

Filed under: Life — Thomas @ 2:14 pm

2:14 pm

I’ve always had an instinctive dislike for flowery writing. I usually express it as “Why use ‘utilise’ when you can use ‘use’ ?” When you use ‘utilise’ you’re telling me that you’re throwing flowers at a bad idea in the hope that I will go ‘ooh, nice flowers’ instead of ‘ooh, bad idea’.

Obviously, this can be used to advantage – if your audience reacts well to flowers by all means go use them. Last week I gave a simple piece of advice to someone (‘pass your presentation to X to give it a nice look’) which immediately paid off in the presentation meeting – the primary target commented on the nice look of the presentation on page 1.

But in writing it triggers my bullshit detector. And by accident I stumbled on George Orwell explaining why.

Now, let’s see if I can focus my writing better.


  1. Really nice link, thanks. Of course it’s a tricky essay to write — there are few texts that can’t be picked apart like Orwell does, his own included. “On the one hand”, “on the other hand”, blah blah blah. But his point is quite nice.

    I was thinking earlier today, I like the word “concision”, because it implies incision: surgical removal of the bad parts.

    ps. Please link to your blog off the front page of your site — perhaps via completely expanding the left hierarchy into the body of the text. There is enough space, and every time I come here it’s a game of link whack-a-mole. Kthx!

    Comment by wingo — 2008-11-6 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Nice, I had never seen that before. I think clear communication is incredibly important in Open Source, thanks for highlighting such a clear essay on it!

    Comment by Rob Taylor — 2008-11-6 @ 3:26 pm

  3. Isaac Asimov also argued why a clear, simple style is better.

    @wingo, you can always subscribe to the RSS…

    Comment by DZPM — 2008-11-6 @ 3:39 pm

  4. I quite agree (though I can’t see any text above, only in RSS feed)
    I was told to read http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/gowerse/complete/index.htm ages ago at college but still haven’t. The book was written to address the extant propensity over superfluous prosaic tendencies that civil servants had (have).

    Have you seen orwells ‘blog’ ?

    Comment by Steve Lee — 2008-11-6 @ 4:14 pm

  5. I personally use the “cuttlefish squirting out ink” line early and often :-).

    And his journal is extremely banal.

    Comment by James Cape — 2008-11-6 @ 6:42 pm

  6. Funny. In Portuguese we also have these two verbs, “usar” and “utilizar”. But “usar” is very informal, and in texts like articles “utilizar” is much more recommended.

    Comment by Paulo — 2008-11-6 @ 10:17 pm

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