• Two Terrific Tips To Try

    As we travelled across the country on our national book tour these past few weeks, two bits of advice that we’ve shared with you over the years stood out as being the most useful for professionals looking to make their job search:

    - Ask for a reference, not a job
    - In the interview, ask your future boss, “How do I help you get a gold star at the end of the year?”

    In the Q&A and in our conversations with you individually after our talk, we heard time and again that these two tips were the most differentiated, and successful, for professionals in their job searches. So let’s re-visit them this Monday morning…

    Ask for a reference, not a job

    We all know how painful networking can be. When I asked attendees at our book signings “who enjoys networking?” typically only about 15% of hands went up. And that’s because networking can be awkward, intimidating, and anxiety-provoking.

    So my advice is: don’t do that. Don’t do networking that makes you and the person you are speaking with feel uncomfortable.

    Let’s look at the difference between bad and good networking.

    Here’s how we typically approach the “networking call”, when we’ve phoned an old friend:

    “Hi Cindy, it’s Bob, your old college buddy. Yeah, how are things going? That’s great. Say, Cindy, I’m going to be looking for a new position in the next couple months here and I was wondering — do you know of any jobs out there for me, or are there any jobs at your company for somebody like me?”

    Now what does this type of networking do to Cindy? It puts her on the spot and it makes her feel uncomfortable.

    She’s not an expert in the job search, and it’s unlikely that she knows where there are jobs out there for somebody like you. So now she is in the awkward position of having to tell you “no”.

    And our friends and colleagues hate being put in the position where they have to tell us “no”. They actually do want to help, so when you ask for their help in a way that prevents them from being any help, it makes both of you feel bad.

    Now let’s look at a better way to network:

    “Hi Cindy, it’s Bob, your old college buddy. Yeah, how are things going? That’s great. Say, Cindy, I’m going to be looking for a new position in the next couple months here and I was wondering — when it gets to the appropriate time in my job search, would it be possible for me to use you as a reference?”

    Well, how difficult is it for Cindy to say “yes” to this? It’s actually quite easy.

    And with that, you’ve actually created a positive feeling. You’ve told Cindy that you value her opinion enough to consider using her as a reference.

    And now that Cindy has had a positive interaction with you, she is much more likely to keep her ears perked up for news or information that might help you in your job search. Remember, you only to need to find one job to be fully employed so if you have dozens, or hundreds, of your contacts with their eyes and ears open for you, you’re more likely to find that position sooner rather than later.

    When I was shaking hands and signing books across the country, I heard from dozens of you that this advice has really worked, in real life, in making their job search more successful and their networking more comfortable. So please use it in good health!

    And the second bit of advice that really resonated with our audiences nationwide was:

    In the interview, ask your future boss “how do I help you get a gold star at the end of the year?”

    So often in interviews, we are focused on what the opportunity means to “me” — what will I get out of the job, what will I be doing, and how do I match up to the position?

    But you have to remember that your future boss is also thinking what this role means for “me” — what will this person do for me and my team, how will this person help us achieve our goals, how will this person make me more successful?

    If you think about it, how difficult was it for your future boss to get this position approved? Well, in these tough economic times, it was probably very difficult. To justify additional headcount in a still crummy economy, your future boss probably had to jump through hoops and hoops with Finance and HR to get permission to hire somebody new.

    So when you show an empathy for, and interest in, their situation and their success, you’ll be like a breath of fresh air.

    By asking how you can help your future boss get a gold star, you’re changing how you are viewed from being just another mouth to feed, to being somebody whose goals and motivations are aligned with theirs. You’re setting yourself apart as somebody who will balance their own needs with the needs of others. And you’re showing that you’re committed to making your boss successful.

    And that is just exactly the type of person who gets hired in our present economic environment.

    So thanks again folks for all the support on the road, and I really do hope you’ll put these two great bits of advice to work in making your job hunt more successful this week!

    A reader wrote in this afternoon with this comment:

    “First of all, let me say that both tips are excellent! I actually just tried the second one during a phone interview with an internal audit director and it really caught him off guard in the best sense possible. After taking a few seconds to gather his thoughts, he actually came out and said that it’s the first time in his career someone brought a question to the interview that went in the direction of what can a person do for the department rather than what can the department do for them. So, thanks a lot for the tip.”

  • Bye-bye!

    “How come my job search isn’t going well?”

    I must have heard that question a hundred times on my way across the country these past two weeks to speak with you all about my new book “You’re Better Than Your Job Search.” I visited 9 cities over the past 10 days to meet with thousands of you at standing-room-only bookstores.

    You turned out in full force to see us in Mountain View, CA.
    We know the wait was very long in some cities due to the crowds — thank you for your support!

    That question is at the heart of our book. The reason we came up with the title is that when we meet with you, our subscribers, it’s clear that you’re an expert at your job. But you’re not an expert at the job search.

    We have a very positive, optimistic message: you will find your next great position, but there may be a few things that you need to do differently to get there.

    By the time we made it to DC, we were the 47th best-selling book in the entire country on Amazon.
    My co-author Matthew Rothenberg, Editor-in-Chief at TheLadders. I think Matthew’s success in illustrating our advice with real-life examples from real-life TheLadders’ subscribers is what has made this book so popular and so useful.

    I’ve been in online recruitment for over a decade, and let me tell you something: while it’s not rocket science, there are best practices, hints, tips, and tricks that you really should learn if you want to have a shorter, faster, easier, and more effective job search. There are simple things you can do to make it much more likely that you’ll hear back from the jobs you’re after.

    We want to share those with you, and that’s why we’ve pulled all of our best advice together in this book.

    The Atlanta Borders was gorgeous, and a wonderful place to meet so many fans in Georgia…
    When you’re doing well in your job search, a fist bump is entirely appropriate!
    A very interesting crowd came out on a rainy night in Los Angeles.
    Just because the job hunt is serious business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach it with a sense of humor.
    You flooded Warwick’s in San Diego…
    Signing line was a great chance to meet so many of you in person.
    A warm welcome in Houston despite it being a Saturday afternoon during football season! Thank you!
    There were a lot of books to sign across the country — we even sold out 3 of the stores we visited!

    I’d like to thank, and encourage you to visit, our retailer friends: Amazon (where the book is back in stock and selling for $11.55), Borders, whose staff was simply wonderful to us all the way across the country, and Barnes & Noble, another great host.

    Taking your questions in Houston, TX.
    We, literally, had them hanging from the rafters in Mountain View, CA.
    A question from the balcony in the Bay Area.
    (Photos: Cori Rosoff)

    And while it’s time to say “bye-bye” to this leg of our journey, we’ll be back out to see you in January!

    Thank you again for your support, your questions, and your belief that you are better than your job search!

  • I’d better shave

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    Good Monday morning,

    Uh-oh.

    I’m on a 10-city book tour right now, Readers, to meet with you in person and share what we’ve learned in our new book “You’re Better Than Your Job Search“. That means lots of travel and press interviews and bookstores all across the country.

    So I was excited to have an interview with the Associated Press on the topic of our book when I was in Washington, DC, and I was getting all set to phone in and do the interview for distribution to hundreds of newspapers around the country.

    There was just one problem.

    It wasn’t a phone interview — they wanted me in person at their DC office.

    And it wasn’t for distribution to their print newspaper members, but rather a video interview for their website.

    And I was in “comfortable” travel clothes and not looking that presentable for a national web audience.

    Uh-oh. I’d better shave.

    You know how this drill goes: an anxious stop to rummage through your bag, a shave in a borrowed sink, and the quick change into a suit that you hope isn’t too rumpled-looking.

    And interviews, whether for a book or for a job, are like that. You’re doing something out of the ordinary so your regular routine doesn’t prepare you for the twists and turns, and the unpredictable changes that happen along the way.

    When you are looking for a new job, the companies with which you are interviewing will throw all sorts of sudden surprises in your way, and it’s important to realize that that’s OK, and it is just part of the process.

    You’ll arrive to find out that they’ve added the CEO to your interview schedule. You’ll get a call on the way to the baseball game that they’d like you to speak with the other VP tonight. Or you’ll get the interview question that is completely out of the blue and you’ll be thinking to yourself… “Uh-oh”… just like I did.

    It’s always surprises, surprises, surprises.

    So you need to prepared. Prepared for the quick change, prepared for the unexpected question, and prepared to not let the randomness of the job search produce unnecessary anxiety — you’ve got to realize that it’s all just part of a process that is out of the ordinary, unusual, and ever-changing, so there’s no need to get overly worried about it.

    Keep calm, keep cool, do the best you can at the moment, and always try to get a little more prepared for the next time.

    To help you do just that, you can use TheLadders to find jobs, write your resume, or read up on how to network, interview, or negotiate salary.

    You can even use our site to get instant updates from recruiters or HR people with jobs for you. Use our social-media feature called “Follow Recruiter” to “follow” recruiters with jobs that you might be interested in. When you find a recruiter with one or more jobs that are right for you, click “follow” and then every time they post a job, you’ll hear about it immediately via email. It’s pretty easy and only takes one click, so go check it out now.

    OK, folks, I’m in San Diego today as I write this, and I’m looking forward to the second half of our two-week book tour this week! It’s been wonderful meeting you all in person!

  • You’re better than that

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    My new book, “You’re Better Than Your Job Search”, is out, and I’d like to thank you, for making it possible.

    You see, in the seven years since I started TheLadders and this Monday newsletter, I’ve read over 400,000 e-mails from subscribers like you and the 4 million other professionals on TheLadders. And it is your stories, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and your careers that have inspired me to write this book. In fact, we took those stories of struggle and success and used them to illustrate the job hunt with actual, live examples from your fellow subscribers — dozens of them — in order to make this a practical, easy guide to giving you a better job search.

    You can buy our new book at Amazon (with a “newly published” discount price this week of $11.55), Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Books-a-million.

    We wrote hundreds of bite-sized, easy-to-read, bits of advice, including:

    • What three things must you cover in an interview?
    • When is it OK to wear pleated pants to an interview?
    • How do I get a higher salary in negotiations?
    • Why shouldn’t your resume be about you?
    • Why should I work with recruiters?

    … and many, many more.

    We’ll be taking the book on the road for the next two weeks to speak with you in person about advancing your professional career. We started off in New York City on Friday night…

    It was standing room only at the Borders Columbus Circle — thanks for the great turn-out on a Friday night!

    My co-author Matthew Rothenberg and I shared some of our favorite bits of advice from the book…

    …we took your questions…

    …and of course we loved meeting you to shake your hand, sign your book, and give out free 1-month subscriptions to TheLadders!

    (Photos: Cori Rosoff)

    Here are our future dates at the moment:

    City Store Date
    Washington, D.C. Borders, Rockville, MD 9/28
    Philadelphia, PA Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Sq. 9/29
    Atlanta, GA Borders, Buckhead 9/30
    Dallas, TX Borders, Uptown 10/1
    Houston, TX Barnes & Noble, West University 10/2
    San Diego, CA Warwick’s, La Jolla 10/4
    Los Angeles, CA Borders, Canoga Park 10/5
    San Francisco, CA Books Inc., Mountain View 10/6
    Chicago, IL Borders, Lincoln Park 10/7

    If you’d like us to come to your town, please drop an email to booktour@theladders.com, and we’ll be sure to let the publishers know. We’ll be adding additional dates to the tour, and cities with the biggest response from our subscribers get first priority!

    If you’d like to pre-order the book online, you can find it here:

    Amazon (currently on sale for $11.46!)

    Borders

    Barnes & Noble (currently on sale for $11.46!)

    Books-a-million

    Have a great week, and I’m looking forward to seeing you!

  • Will you be forgiven?

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    Lehman Brothers failed and the government bailed out AIG two years ago, Readers, and things haven’t been the same since. It’s been a calamity for the country and for the job market.

    If you’re one of the unlucky ones — just doing your job well when the ax came along and hacked away over 8 million jobs out of our economy — it’s been a period of frustration bordering on despair.

    Some of you were skeptical three years ago when the declining price of black town cars in midtown Manhattan had me calling a recession. But come it did.

    And it’s been hard to find a job these past few years. You know it, we know it, and, most importantly, the companies looking to hire you know it.

    That’s why we’ve been hearing increasingly about “candidate forgiveness,” the idea that a lot of good people are out of work through no fault of their own, and that their unemployment shouldn’t be counted against them.

    But rather than simply throwing yourself on the tender mercies of hiring managers and recruiters, there’s something you should do about a period of unemployment during this “Great Recession”: make lemonade out of lemons. That is, take the bad situation and turn it to the best advantage you possibly can by demonstrating that you’ve used the hiatus to become even more valuable to your next employer:

    • Volunteer your way to a new job. Volunteerism equals networking, education and activity. Working deeply with one charity, church, or philanthropic organization is preferable to spreading yourself too thin. Involvement that is substantial, particularly in a leadership capacity, has many similarities to full-time work and can be presented in a similar light on your resume.
    • Take classes or get accreditation. If your field has a hierarchical series of professional acronyms, now’s the time to do the work without having to squeeze it in between a full day at the office and full weekends at the soccer field. And using this time to get caught up with Microsoft Office 2010, or improving your understanding of finance, marketing, sales, or technology issues related to your industry can only make you look like a go-getter.
    • Choose contract work wisely. If your goal is full-time employment, try to get contract opportunities that show off your best skills and that support your personal brand. This will give you relevant and up-to-date accomplishments to discuss during your interviews.

    Bottom line: Don’t let grass grow under your feet. If you’re a self-starter who turns adversity into opportunity, all will be forgiven!

    Have a great week, I’ll be rooting for you…

  • Coming to your town soon on my book tour

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    I’ve written a book, “You’re Better Than Your Job Search,” along with my Editor-in-Chief here at TheLadders, Matthew Rothenberg, and we’ll be coming to your city soon on our book tour. To follow us on our way across the country, you should follow me on Twitter here.

    I’ve been writing this newsletter for seven years, and we’ve collected the best advice, insider tips, and savvy secrets from that time into this book. I’m looking forward to sharing all of this with you in person, taking your questions, shaking your hand, and signing your book!

    Here’s our schedule so far…

    City Store Date
    New York, NY Borders, Columbus Circle 9/24
    Washington, D.C. Borders, Rockville, MD 9/28
    Philadelphia, PA Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Sq. 9/29
    Atlanta, GA Borders, Buckhead 9/30
    Dallas, TX Borders, Uptown 10/1
    Houston, TX Barnes & Noble, West University 10/2
    San Diego, CA Warwick’s, La Jolla 10/4
    Los Angeles, CA Borders, Canoga Park 10/5
    San Francisco, CA Books Inc., Mountain View 10/6
    Chicago, IL Borders, Lincoln Park 10/7



    If you’d like us to come to your town, please drop an email to booktour@theladders.com, and we’ll be sure to let the publishers know. We’ll be adding additional dates to the tour, and cities with the biggest response from our subscribers get first priority!

    If you’d like to pre-order the book online, you can find it here:

    Amazon (currently on sale for $11.46!)

    Borders

    Barnes & Noble (currently on sale for $11.46!)

    Books-a-million

    Thanks, Readers, have a great week, and I will see you soon!

  • I know what you did last summer

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    Well, summer’s over today. Time to put the whites back in the closet, get the grill ready for tailgate season, and, importantly, it’s time to Google yourself.

    You see, with the Web being the first place that people go to search for things to buy, places to fly, or new things to try, it’s also where recruiters and hiring mangers go to learn about you “on the sly.”

    And it’s important to Google more than just your full name. When companies are trying to poke around in your history, they’ll search out all of your past experiences. Check it out, each of these searches yield different results:

    Marc

    Marc Cenedella

    Marc Cenedella TheLadders

    Marc Cenedella New York

    Marc Cenedella Harvard Business School

    Marc Cenedella 10013

    It’s the first page of results that’s most important. Go through these searches and check each of the links on the first page to understand how you are being presented or referenced on the web.

    If all you find is glowing praise and adulation, fantastic for you and congratulations!

    But if you find material that might put you in the wrong light, it’s important to try and do something about it:

    Patch up: If you control the site or page that has the troubling information or photos, patch up your online reputation quickly by removing or deleting the questionable material.

    Push it down: If you do not control the site, another way to improve your online reputation is to push the offending material down in the results. By expanding your presence on social networks, blogs, and community forums, you can generate new, highly relevant web content that could get ranked higher in the search results than the bad information.

    Petition: It’s a long shot, but if you’re unable to remove the offending information, you can petition the site owner or webmaster to remove it. You are asking for a favor, so never approach a website proprietor with outrage, incredulity, or legal posturing. I can almost guarantee that won’t work.

    You best bet is to humbly seek their help… “I’m looking to clean up my online reputation so that my family, friends, and business colleagues won’t get the wrong idea about me. There is some unfortunate information on your website, and I’d really appreciate it if you would consider removing this particular bit. I know you have the right to have whatever you want on your site, and perhaps you didn’t even put everything up there yourself. So I would really appreciate it if you could help out a guy who is in a little bit of a jam.”

    Again, the anonymous Internet seems to make e-mail arguments much easier, and many website operators can be very prickly about preserving their independence, so never, ever take a high-handed or aggressive approach.

    Prepare: If patching, pushing and petitioning don’t work, that means you’ll have to prepare for the question in your job interview. Simply and clearly state the circumstances that led to the bad information and then stop. Don’t go into a long or tortured conversation about implications, how it makes you feel, or how unfair it is. By being open, honest and sensible, you may actually be able to come out ahead…

    “Yes, during the downturn I was required to let go over 200 people in my division. Unfortunately, several of the impacted people shared their negative viewpoints of my performance in that role online. I can understand and sympathize with their anger, but I thought that preserving the ability of our company to survive very difficult economic times was in our best interests.

    “Is there anything specific I can address for you?”

    If you forthrightly answer the question, show an openness to further inquiry (the appetite for digging through dirty laundry in person is actually much smaller than you’d imagine), and then move on, you’ll be doing the best to put a positive spin on an unfortunate situation.

    OK, Readers, hope you’re having a great Labor Day, and that you’re ready to get cracking come tomorrow….

  • Relax

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    It’s the last Monday of August — “the dog days” of summer are coming to an end, and the new recruiting season will pick up after Labor Day. There’s a rhythm to recruiting over the course of the year, and the peaks of activity are “New Year” and “Back-to-School”.

    After summer vacations wind down, companies begin to gear up: executives are back in the office, it’s easier to schedule interviews, and the headcount required for 2011 is starting to loom on the “to do” lists of the HR department.

    So next week I’m going to tell you how to get ramped up for the new season.

    This week? I’m going to tell you to relax. Specifically, I’m going to ask you to take Friday off from your job hunt.

    It’s one of those truisms that looking for a job is a job in itself. And like any work that you do, you need to take a break in order to be refreshed, have your batteries charged, and to have the energy and drive to succeed.

    As Americans, we tend to not take a balanced approach to work and life. “The business of America is business” as one president put up. We take our BlackBerries to the beach, check our email at midnight, and we do working lunches all the time. It’s a pretty strenuous lifestyle.

    But this week, I want you to get out of that rut. I want you to get recharged and refreshed for September. And I want you to relax.

    So on Friday, please, take some time to do just that. Duck out of the office early, don’t focus on the job search, don’t put the finishing touches on your resume, and, yes, take a break from your activity here on TheLadders (although we’ll be here for you all day — just in case).

    Take a break and go do something that you love. Whether it’s hitting the links, or going with the girls to see “Eat Pray Love”, or just taking a run in the hills. Get out of the office and get into a good state of mind before the long weekend.

    So, please, take Friday off from the job search, and make it a day to get on to a different path.

    We’ll be here when you get back, and we’ll make it a great September… together.

    OK, Readers, have a great week, er… I mean, four days, in your job search!

  • George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” 1946

    Here is the complete text of Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”, with web-friendly punctuation and paragraphs:

    Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

    Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

    The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

    These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that i can refer back to them when necessary:

    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.

    Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

    2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .

    Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)

    3. 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?

    Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

    4. All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

    Communist pamphlet

    5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

    Letter in Tribune

    Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them.

    The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision.  The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.

    As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

    I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

    Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed.

    Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a “rift,” for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

    Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc.

    The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

    Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.

    Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.* The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

    Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.

    When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.” The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

    Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

    Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. 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, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

    Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel 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.

    This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases “success or failure in competitive activities.” This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like “objective considerations of contemporary phenomena” — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

    Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

    As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump.

    By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

    Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

    In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.

    And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

    “While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

    The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

    But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.

    By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

    I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

    To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a “standard English” which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a “good prose style.” On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning.

    What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

    (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    (ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

    I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.

    If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.

     

     

     

     


    *An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

    † Example: Comfort’s catholicity 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 . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation.” (Poetry Quarterly)

    *One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.


  • Can you guess the artist?

    Bisonpainting

    Can you guess the artist behind this interesting painting?