TODAY more than ever we need writers of straightforward English. We need them if we are to preserve the heritage of plain prose against unceasing attacks by powerful enemies — shoddy thinking, speech appealing to prejudice, mass-entertainment with all its supporting printed matter, snobbery, and what deceives the uncritical into thinking it is ‘fine writing’. We particularly need them because of the value of clear thinking: ‘They who are learning to compose and arrange their sentences with accuracy and order are learning at the same time to think with accuracy and order.’*
If ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are to be more than catchwords, clear communication must be the rule, and not the exception. In a totalitarian state it may be sufficient for the dictator and his henchmen to be able to use straightforward language. Do we want a society in which placid masses take their orders from bosses? The alternative to government by force is government by persuasion. The latter must mean that the governed can talk back to the governors – that Tom Smith can put a pointed question to his M.P., can write an intelligible letter to the editor of a newspaper, and can exchange views with his work-mates, in speech or writing. Tom Smith and his wife are better citizens if they have learned to value and practise straightforward English.
* From Lectures on Rhetoric by the Revd Hugh Blair, the first Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh. See Order and Method.
Just as dictators have a vested interest in keeping their public inarticulate, so too the ability to write and speak clearly is essential to a free and democratic society. Ordinary people can serve their country by learning to speak and write in good, plain English, and by using it to stay informed and to hold their government to account. (59 / 60 words)