Why it’s ok that I’m not George Orwell

In his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell advocates the following writing principle:

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out

87 years before Orwell wrote this essay, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities. Here’s an excerpt:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

It’s pretty safe to say that Orwell would not be a fan of Dicken’s 119-word sentence. But does this make the sentence “bad”?

In regards to verbosity, it’s clear these two authors exist on different sides of the spectrum. Verbosity is one key component of style, and therefore this gaping difference in verbosity causes the authors to write with very different styles. And while some readers might prefer certain styles, there is no “correct” style of writing. Style is a fascinating grey area; some genres lend themselves better to certain genres, but in the end there is no concrete formula for each genre. This is why I found the Style Masquerade activity so interesting.

The author I emulated for this activity was George Orwell. I quickly realized that he writes with an extremely concise and to-the-point style. He doesn’t use flowery metaphors – or really even metaphors in general – and seems to avoid wordiness in every sentence. As I read more about his style, I began to feel embarrassed about my own style, which is more like Dickens than Orwell. While I try not to be unnecessarily wordy in my writing, I do tend to utilize long words and long sentences. The more I read Orwell, the more I thought “Wow, my writing is horrible; I’m breaking many of his six famous rules for writing.”

However, as I reflect more on this activity, I’ve come to realize that style is a very personal aspect of writing. Many people consider George Orwell to be a great writer, but this doesn’t mean I should try to be George Orwell. The activity was meant to expose us to different writing styles, so we can start thinking about our own style. And while we shouldn’t try to copy other writers, it’s certainty reasonable to evaluate how different elements of their style fit together. Orwell has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the choices he makes in regards to style (reflected in his 6 rules), and the biggest takeaway from this activity has been that I should do the same. In the future, I plan to spend more time reflecting on my style on a macro level, and this will hopefully jump-start my writing development as I navigate the Sweetland minor.

The Oatmeal: Why you should follow it

The word exigency almost implies a serious connotation. It’s a fancy looking 4-syllable word that google defines as “an urgent need or demand.” Under the google definition is an example of exigency used in a sentence; it reads: “women worked long hours when the exigencies of the family economy demanded it.” Furthermore, according to google, the word stems from the Latin word for enforce, which is “exigere.” It might seem hard to believe that this word, with a serious sounding definition, example, and origin, could be applied to a blog that posts images like the following:

 

The above image is an illustration of the last Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, posted on The Oatmeal. The Oatmeal is a blog that posts many single images like these, as well as full-blown comics like My Dog: The Paradox that often go viral on the internet. Many comics have an underlying theme that is meant to inspire, like this comic on how the blog’s author motivates himself to run regularly. Other comics, like Cat vs. Internet, cover more silly, light-hearted topics. Therefore, the exigence is some comics could be argued as more serious and meaningful than the exigence in others; this is evident when comparing the running comic to the cat comic. However, throughout all of the Oatmeal’s comics, pictures, and blog posts, there usually exists an element of humor that I also believe represents exigence. While getting people to laugh at silly jokes on the internet might seem like a frivolous pursuit, The Oatmeal truly helps me wind down from a stressful day. Little bits of non-nonsensical humor brighten up my day and help me keep a level head among the serious issues of day-to-day life. My dad might argue that looking at comics of cats on the internet is a 100% waste of time, but in my opinion sometimes stupid humor is just what I need to get through the day. I imagine this applies to other readers of The Oatmeal as well, and therefore represents a true source of exigence. The Oatmeal’s humor might not seem like “an urgent need or demand” when compared to a social justice or humanitarian blog, but in my opinion this humor still represents meaningful exigence. To many readers like myself, this humor is not only something I read to stay sane, but it also represents a part of my identity. The sarcastic, snarky humor of The Oatmeal reminds me of myself, and provides me with quick-to-digest entertainment to alleviate my often stressful college life. In this way, the exigence behind The Oatmeal is the need to provide entertainment to those who demand it, and I believe this shouldn’t be looked down upon when compared to more serious examples of exigence. If you think you could add a couple chuckles to your day by digesting The Oatmeal’s unique style of humor, then you should undoubtedly follow The Oatmeal’s Blog, if only to browse for a few minutes a day.

What Counts as Writing? Calligraphy

The example from”What Counts as Writing?” that interested me most was calligraphy. The idea of calligraphy as writing is interesting to me because it introduces aspects of art and design not usually associated with “writing”. Most of my writing “career” has been spent writing formal essays, and therefore I don’t normally incorporate design into my writing. In other words, my focus with writing is usually involved with the actual words used, as opposed to the way they look or appear. For example, I never really spend too much time thinking about elements like font choice when writing an academic essay. In reality, these design elements to writing are very essential to conveying a message to your audience. Therefore, thinking about calligraphy as writing really opens my eyes to incorporating design in my writing. As I progress though the minor, I will be thinking more about how my writing is presented. In addition to things like word choice and sentence fluency, it’s also important to consider font choice, font size, and presentation style. An extreme example would be to think about what would happen if a professor printed an academic article with a size 20 crayon font. Even though the article’s arguments might be insightful, the design and style of their presentation would undoubtedly affect the writer’s credibility.