“It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well.”
George Orwell, 1984
George Orwell, public speaking expert? There is little doubt that George Orwell is one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th Century, and that his legacy continues into the 21st Century, and likely for generations to come.
Best known for literary hallmarks (and required reads) like Animal Farm and 1984, Orwell, born Eric Blair, was not only a prolific author. During his lifetime, which ended tragically at the age of 46, Orwell was a political activist as well as a producer for the BBC.
Orwell published numerous works, but there is precious little that would define him as an expert in public speaking. Even so, I can make a case that George Orwell could be considered a public speaking expert.
George Orwell, Public Speaking Expert
The secret lies in an essay Orwell wrote in 1946, entitled Politics and the English Language. At that time this essay was a call to action against poor political writing and the decline in the quality and impact of the written Modern English word. Today the essay is still widely read, is taught in many classrooms, and is revered by many authors.
Politics and the English Language teaches many lessons, and concludes with 6 rules that are not just rules for the written word, but are just as significant for the spoken word. These rules are:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. (Metaphors that are overused or of which the meaning is no longer clear.)
- Never use a long word when a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous. (Barbarous –very rude or offensive; very cruel and violent.)
George Orwell was not the only legendary communicator who held some of these beliefs. Sir Winston Churchill often wrote about brevity in communication, including in some official papers to staff. Mark Twain stated “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” The Gettysburg Address, one of the most iconic speeches every given, consisted of 272 words in total, of which 204 were one syllable.
Politics and the English Language is a must read for any student of effective communication. While less than 5500 words in total, there are numerous other examples within the work that are as relevant today as in 1946.