Orwell, Carlin, and the abuse of the English Language
Of ostriches’ heads

Stylistic imitation

Today’s installment of Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day included this quotation. This is why I preach against over-reliance on form files and encourage writers to nurture their own individual style.

“Much bad writing today comes not from the conventional sources of verbal dereliction—sloth, original sin, or native absence of mind—but from stylistic imitation. It is learned, an act of stylistic piety which imitates a single style, the bureaucratic style I have called The Official Style. This bureaucratic style dominates written discourse in our time, and beginning or harried or fearful writers adopt it as protective coloration.”

—Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose vi (3d ed. 1992).



RE: It is learned, an act of stylistic piety WHICH imitates a single style, the bureaucratic style I have called The Official Style.

Note that the author commits the very error he advises against.


Wow. Is this ever true! Brief writers tend to adopt the "official style" in order to sound professional. However, all they end up doing is sounding bland and encyclopedic.

Brief writing is about persuasion. Persuasion is about communication. Communication is about interest. After 30 years of writing briefs, I've always preached KEEP IT LIVELY - KEEP IT INTERESTING - KEEP THEM READING.


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