Are you writing in ‘corporatese’? George Orwell would like a word…
“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
It’s 65 years since George Orwell, creator of Animal Farm and one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, offered writers this advice at the end of his essay Politics and the English Language. And although the clichés George was thinking of probably seem quaint rather than common nowadays, his advice still holds true: avoid the buzzword.
Why? He wasn’t just throwing a writer’s tantrum. Orwell realized that buzzwords become so familiar to people that they create no emotional response whatsoever. And that’s a big deal: when your reader isn’t reacting emotionally to what you’re saying, they’re not paying attention and they’re certainly not taking the action you’re suggesting.
Oddly, Orwell’s examples from 1946 have lost their commonness; the term ‘take up the cudgel’ actually paints quite a vivid picture nowadays. Were he reading in 2011, though, he’d probably take aim at modern-day ‘corporatese’: those terms long devoid of meaning that nonetheless won’t go away. I’m not mentioning names but you can ‘reach out’ to this ‘game-changing’ buzzword list to explore further.
So what figures of speech can you use when you’re telling a story in your next news release? Happily, there’s one type that Orwell loved: the type you make up yourself. An original figure of speech ‘assists thought by evoking a visual image’, he explains. By stopping your readers in their tracks with a weird and wonderful term of your very own, you can create that emotional reaction that makes the people reading your news sit up and listen.
Just remember to keep George happy and stop using your new term if it accidentally takes the world by storm. He’s also got five other rules worth paying attention to: you’ll find them at the bottom of the page.
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