So says George 'The Guv'nor' Orwell in his essay 'Politics and the English Language'. I urge anyone interested in writing to click that last link right now (I'll still be here when you get back, honest). Alternatively, if you're an SF/Fantasy author/ critic who blogs, I urge you to sew a microfilm of the entire essay onto the backside of your eyelids. If my carousing around the SF blogosphere is any indicator, you probably need it.
How is it that great SF writers--writers capable of groundbreaking novels or incandescent critical insight --will happily use tiresome received web-speak when it comes to blogs? Or drop flyblown memes (You know- that bloody angry wolf one or the classic 'Here is a picture of something absurd and unrelated to whatever we are discussing. Your argument is invalid) into a perfectly fine post?
|Who ever made this: Lie down, pal. Lie down in an open space and wait for the year's first frost to pick you off. It's nature's way.|
The answer, of course, is that it is less work. With a greasy and knowing wink, one can bathe in the reflected glow of online culture, unlocking new levels of Call of Common Denominator III. The gallery is played to, a smile is raised, and original thought is thoroughly avoided.
Off the top of my head, here is a list of the kind of phrases any self-respecting person of letters should ideally avoid. I've seen everyone of them on an SF author or critic's blog.
"Fail "(used as noun): The main offender. The internet's equivalent of 'You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps' signs or those hemp jester hats self-amused twats would wear at nineties raves. "Fail" covers everything from Fascism to the Transformers movies and is thus as imprecise as it is punchable.
Racism, for instance, isn't a 'fail'. It's an affront to humanity and Enlightenment ideals. I know a lot of you guys can't help but glue a 'fail' onto it, but it's kind of the equivalent of sticking deeley-boppers onto crash victims.
"Facepalm/Head-desk" (Exasperation): Overuse has sapped these of any power. The reader's eye simply rolls over them. The writer would have more punch stating 'This annoys me'.
"The stupid... it burns!" See above.
"(Particular city/ location), I am in you!": Initially amusing but increasingly wearisome, this term is popular with authors on Twitter who are out on book tours. Let's give them the benefit of jet lag.
"Neckbeard": An insult hurtled at one set of nerds from another. It makes you realize jocks do this kind of thing much better.
"Butthurt": See above.
"Teh" as in 'The'
"Evar" as in 'ever'
"All the Things" as in 'I have many tasks'
"Kitteh" as in 'kitten': All from the infantilist side of the genre. 'If I talk like a two-year old,' the logic goes, 'I'll be liked. I so desperately want to be liked.' Newsflash- you're a 37-year old adult with a paunch and bad knees, and even when you did speak like this the 'Teh intehwebz' didn't exist yet.
The 'comedy' Bingo Card: Have strong opinions but lack any visible wit? Why not create a 'bingo card'! Self-assembly, ready-meal satire for any yahoo with at least four fingers. The idea is to collate a load of your opponent's arguments onto a bingo card, thus rendering said arguments cliche (oh the irony!) and invalid. Because you put them on a bingo card.
|Oh, Christ, no...|
Except it doesn't. Not slightly.
Here's an experiment: list your best arguments against theft, say, or child murder or gang-rape, or take your favorite Martin Luther King quotes, and put them on one of these bingo cards (Christ knows, the template is probably out there on the web). By virtue of being placed on a systematized grid with 'Bingo' written on the top, these arguments will have the superficial appearance of being hackneyed and tacky. You can't buy satire at Ikea. You just can't. Deal with it.
"Wank": 'You are not British. Put the word down before you do yourself an injury, mate. You haven't the training. This is The Sweeney (if you were British, you'd know who we were) and if you pull out the illegal terms 'fanwank' or 'wanky' we will shoot on sight.'
When you put any of the above phrases into your blog post, dear readers, a kitten dies (which incidentally, is yet another over-the-hill webicism).
Yes, you can argue that I'm an old-fashioned prick-in-the-mud, that I fear the inevitability of English changing etc. But I'd say the opposite. It's a hard fact, one no one has any wish to face up to, that though nowadays we all live inside an i-pad and have twitter pouring from our nostrils, we are just as subject to the laws of entropy as any other generation. The first age of the internet is drawing to a close, and all its trappings reek of mothballs.
It confuses me why people refuse to see this. I put it down to something I call 'The Amanda Palmer factor': when you're such a nice, creative, social-media-kickstarter-savvy-intehweb-zeitgeist-riding groovy person that it blinds you to the fact your actions have become more akin to an 18th century Yorkshire landowner's. Scary, but it happens. And, on whatever level, we should look out for it in ourselves.
Webspeak is both stale and imprecise (Pretty much Orwell's bugbears in his essay) and that's a threat to any writing community because both calcify expression and, ultimately, thought. By way of example, a fairly well-respected SF blogger informed me "Looks like you missed the fail-boat" regarding something I'd said on Twitter.
|If any of you put this up in the comments roll of this post, me and Christopher Priest will jab interweeb puppiez, chezburgers and copies of The Prestige into your luckless eyeballs.|
It felt like I was talking with 2009. But another realization followed swiftly: If I had 'missed the fail boat' surely that would imply I had succeeded? Or at least not failed? Language and meaning had parted company here, though, doubtless, 'missed the failboat' gets used again and again (and again) by educated, reasoning people who should really spot it's inbuilt flaw. Worse, they probably get complimented for using it by fellow bloggers who should also know better. The phrase itself had ceased to matter; the blogger just mouthed the right-sounding syllables.
But, really... what a missed chance! A well-crafted, homemade insult from someone inarguably intelligent would have exposed me as a fool there and then. But no. The certainty of lukewarm approval trumped the risks of attempting to write something brilliant. It is one of several poisoned arrows in the heart of the WiFi age.
Throw away fear and cliche, comrades. Seek brilliance.