What a resource! The Orwell Diaries are the online journals of one of the 20th century's greatest writers, published 70 years to the day after he wrote them. I've put a link to them in the Webwriting Resources list.
It's amazing how quickly those of us with internet access have come to take for granted the remarkable amounts of information we have at our disposal, but we're only seeing the beginnings. The bulk of human knowledge remains offline. As more of us get access to the internet, more of the world's information will find its way online.
The web is already making strides toward becoming truly global. While I was chairman of ICANN, one of the organisations that helps ensure that the internet works uniformly around the world, we adopted rules to allow the system of domain names to accommodate non-Roman characters, making the web more accessible to people whose languages use other scripts, such as Arabic, Korean or Cyrillic.
There are improvements in automatic language translation tools and, in particular, the field that we call machine learning. It is already possible to do a Google search and explore the results in English across web content in 23 different languages, from Czech to Hindi to Korean. Speakers of any of those languages can now explore content on the web written in any of the others.
The technology isn't perfect yet, but it's rapidly improving. Even in its present form, it's easy to imagine a not-too-distant future in which automatic translation will allow two people in the world to message one another in real time, each experiencing the chat in his or her tongue. Just imagine what a significant step that will be.
Cerf predicts that even space probes will be built to use the internet. I predict that such probes will need major spam filters.
More seriously, webwriters should begin to think about writing effectively in more languages than just English. Some languages are "wordier" than English; others are more concise. Do readers of Chinese or Arabic scan a computer screen the way English readers do? I wish I knew.
Robert Fisk is best known as a journalist specializing in the Middle East. But today he turns his attention to another chronic problem. Via The Independent: Avoid cliché like the plague? Never. Excerpt:
Opposite my apartment in Beirut there used to live an American-born English teacher called Marion Lanson. When she departed Lebanon, I inherited her 1949 Random House American College Dictionary, edited by one Clarence L Barnhart "with the Assistance of 355 Authorities and Specialists". I like "authorities" and "specialists" very much because we have largely abandoned such words.
I was keen to look up Mr Barnhart's definition of that plague of modern journalism, the cliché. "A trite, stereotyped expression, idea, practice, etc, as 'sadder but wiser', 'strong as an ox'."
Alas, I fear these are imaginative expressions compared with the stuff we now consume. Mr. Barnhart's German translation of cliché – "klitsch" or "doughy mass" – seems more appropriate for the assaults on literacy that we commit today.
All this came to mind when I learned this week of the coup in Mauretania, where the army took power after President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi unwisely tried to fire some of his senior officers.
Would tanks "roll" into the capital, I asked myself? Tanks always "roll", don't they? I have never actually seen a tank perform this extraordinary act but, clichés being what they are, my eye sped down the Mauretania story for my friendly "roll". And sure enough – perhaps because Mauretania doesn't have a lot of tanks – there it was. The president, said the agency report, "was arrested after military convoys rolled through the capital Nouakchott".
Why do we use these dead words? There is a dictionary of clichés on my desktop in Beirut and I heartily recommend Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words by the Australian Don Watson.
It contains one of my most hated clichés: core. As in "core issues", "core business" or "core learning outcomes". Rather like "key speakers" – of which I always refuse to be a member – these clichés attempt to smother idiocy with deep learning (or "core" learning, perhaps).
What is this fascination with stale language? Let me rage. I hate all reports about wars where "the guns fall silent"; the retirement period for artillery being rather short, it's only a matter of time before the "clouds of war" begin to gather once more, when opponents are "pitted" against each other, when guns "soften up" their targets, and national governments complain about "terrorists" crossing (ergo: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan) "porous borders". In Iraq, we may experience a "spike" of violence, followed – of course – by a successful "surge".