Quotations about   clarity

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Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
Comment as Chief of the Prussian General Staff, Battle of Sedan (Sep 1870)
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 6-Dec-17
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A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? 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. The 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.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon (Apr 1946)
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Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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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:

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

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

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

Never use the passive where you can use the active.

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

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

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon (Apr 1946)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is timid and dislikes going into the water.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft] (1882)
Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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Clarity in language depends on clarity in thought.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
Interview with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN (10 May 1998)
Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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Don’t express your ideas too clearly. Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what they do not.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish writer.
The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” (1981)
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Added on 8-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Feb-16
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A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.
Charles Ketting - problem well stated - wist_info

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)

Sometimes attributed to John Dewey.
Added on 16-Oct-15 | Last updated 16-Oct-15
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It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist Papers, #62 (Feb 1788)
Added on 27-Aug-15 | Last updated 27-Aug-15
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Don’t write so you can be understood. Write so that you cannot be misunderstood.

Quintilian (39-90) Roman orator [Marcus Fabius Quintilianus]
De Institutione Oratoria, Book 8, ch. 2, l. 24

Alt. trans.: "We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."

Also attributed to Epictetus, Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Taft.
Added on 24-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Jun-16
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If the world were clear, art would not exist.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Absurd Creation,” The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
Added on 3-Nov-14 | Last updated 3-Nov-14
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Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the End of Speech is not Ostentation, but to be understood.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
Some Fruits of Solitude, Part 2, “Of Conduct and Speech,” #122 (1682)
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Added on 29-Aug-11 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Struggling to be brief
I become obscure.

[Brevis esse laboro,
obscurus fio.]

Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet and satirist [Quintus Horacius Flaccus]
Ars Poetica, l. 25 (c. 18 BC)

Alt. trans.: "Aiming at brevity, I become obscure."
Added on 9-May-11 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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Words, like glass, obscure when they do not aid vision.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]

Alt. trans.: "Words, like eyeglasses, obscure everything they do not make clear."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-May-16
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Too much positive is either scared or stupid or both. Reality is uncertain.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Early Autumn (1981)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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