Variants of the following humorous list have been floating around the net and the press for at least twenty years.
Do you see what is wrong with every sentence in this list? Answer
The list is intended to be humorous. The list does NOT exemplify good usage.
How to Write Good
George L. Trigg, William Safire, and others
Answer: Each sentence commits the error it warns against.
George Orwell on Style
(The following list is serious.)
Orwell writes: “I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all
Here it is in modern English:
Objective consideration of
contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in
competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate
capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably
be taken into account.”
Examples of Published Bad Writing
Some writing is technically flawless and still terrible! And, unfortunately, professors are frequently the worst offenders. Here are some more examples of objectionable vagueness (empty gassy prose). Unfortunately, you find some of the very worst writing in academic journals.
1. “I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.”
— Literary critic Harold Laski
2. “On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?”
— One of Orwell’s examples, unattributed
3. “Just as Dasein is already its “not-yet” constantly as long as it is, it is already its end too. … Death is not something to which Dasein ultimately comes only in its demise. In Dasein, as being towards its death, its own uttermost “not-yet” has already been included. … Dasein, furthermore, stretches itself along in such a way that its own Being is constituted in advance as a stretching along. … How does the running ahead understanding project itself on a potentiality-for-Being which is certain and which is constantly possible in such a way that the “when” in which the utter impossibility of existence becomes possible remains constantly indefinite?”
— Martin Heidegger (philosopher)
4. “But it should be noted that this regulatory totalisation realises my immanence in the group in the quasi-transcendence of tha totalising third party; for the latter, as the creator of objectives or organiser of means, stands in a tense and contradictory relation of transcendence-immanence, so that my integration, though real in the here and now which define me, remains somewhere incomplete, in the here and now which characterize the regulatory third party. We see here the re-emergence of an element of alterity proper to the statute of the group, but which here is still formal: the third party is certainly the same, the praxis is certainly common everywhere; but a shifting dislocation makes it totalising when I am the totalised means of the group, and conversely."
— Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher)
5. “Comfort’s catholocity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness.”
— Poetry Quarterly (cited by Orwell)
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