Wise words

14 April 2010 0

I spoke at an event this week about how to write clearly. To illustrate my points I used a few quotes, which, now that I’ve gathered them, I thought I’d share here:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

George Orwell

“If you got to use that kind of language about a thing, it’s ninety-proof bull and I’m not buying any.”

Big Daddy, in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Think of leads as though they cost you 10 bucks per word, or as if every word were to be engraved on stainless steel while you’re sitting on a hot stove.”

Jack Cappon, Associated Press 

“Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

Samuel Johnson

“If you feel the decorative impulse coming on, lie down until it goes away. Strong feature writing is simple, clear, orderly and free of labored mannerisms and tricks that call attention to the writing itself rather than the substance.”

Jack Cappon, Associated Press

The Cappon quotes are from his brilliant book ‘The Associated Press guide to news writing’ (previously published as ‘The Word’) and the Orwell quote is from his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English language’. 


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