Well, yes Oliver

Who could possibly disagree? Well, me. Orwell’s essay is a misconceived and blundering polemic whose rules are alternately facile, foolish and destructive.

The essay’s opening sentence betrays its tendentiousness:

Tendentiousness being, I suspect, one of those words Orwell would advise against using.

What’s wrong with the word “bias” there after all?

32 thoughts on “Well, yes Oliver”

  1. Kamm would definitely be on the list of the intellectual types Orwell despised. Maybe that’s why Kamm is attempting to put the boot in.

  2. He tries to dis George Orwell by quoting Andrew Marr?

    The Witch-King of Angmar would not have sufficient gravitas to put down Mr Orwell never mind some jug-eared leftist cream puff.

    Oliver Kamm??– Oliver fucking Karm’t.

  3. But Timmy,

    Yesterday’s definitions are so old school. Surely you must recognize that today’s ambiguous use of terms that had specific meanings adds far more to our culture than any old-school definition where a term has a specific meaning could ever hope to have.

    Note: A debate over an ambiguous definition of a term led me to pound a few on a day I normally wouldn’t. Note to the kids, just because Urban Dictionary provides a definition, doesn’t mean that definition was actually used widely in the real world before Urban Dictionary accepted the made up usage.

  4. That essay should be pinned to the wall of every room where written English is composed.

    Luckily the paywall stops me reading the OP, which does my blood pressure a favour. By chance I was reading a passage from Nineteen Eighty-Four this morning. It predicts with perfect precision the mechanism that has allowed PC to infest our lives — too few people know or care what is being done to them:

    In the ramifications of party doctrine [Julia] had not the faintest interest. Whenever [Winston] began to talk of the principles of Ingsoc, doublethink, the mutability of the past, and the denial of objective reality, and to use Newspeak words, she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing. One knew that it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it? She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all one needed. If he persisted in talking of such subjects, she had a disconcerting habit of falling asleep. She was one of those people who can go to sleep at any hour and in any position. Talking to her, he realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.

  5. Ah yes, Oliver Kamm. A moderately-talented journalist and blogger whose family connections landed him a cushy job at The Times and whose literary output consists largely of a book explaining why Blair’s invasion of Iraq was a good idea tells us the writing advice of a supremely talented author whose works have stood the test of time should be discarded as foolish.

    The most startling thing is that people would actually read this rubbish and agree with it.

  6. The OED doesn’t recognise “tendentiousness” as a word so perhaps ‘the English language is indeed in a bad way’ ¹ when Kamm gets his ‘clunky’ ² hands on it.

    1) Geo. Orwell
    2) O. Kamm

  7. I wonder how supportive Kamm would be of “ambiguous terms” if he was being wheeled into an operating theatre and they were being used by the surgeon?

  8. @ Rob

    There’s an image: a surgeon, knife in hand, looking over Kamm saying “I’ll just slash around the wobbly thing to get to the jellyfish-looking bit and then we’ll have a lookie-see at the whoosamajig that always reminds me of a poorly-set blancmange.”

  9. Orwell’s rules are rather stupid but it is a pity that so few people read a little further into this essay and read this, which I think is genuinely insightful:

    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?’

  10. TMB, does the OED not show a noun formation from “tendentious”? If it doesn’t then it needs revision. TS Eliot used the noun “tendentiousness” in an essay in 1935

  11. @ Diogenes

    “Orwell’s rules are rather stupid”

    No, they are not. Their very simplicity probably means pompous asses like Kamm will dismiss them out of hand as they lack all the garbage and academic BS that passes for high-brow writing these days.

    The rules encourage clarity of thought and the absence of unneeded chaff, i.e. words like ‘tendentiousness’. How in God’s name is that stupid?

    And the passage you quote expands on precisely those very same rules.

  12. What am I trying to say?
    What words will express it?

    This is what I asked myself when struggling with how to say something. I’d express it verbally to an imaginary partner, write that down, and take it from there. “What exactly am I trying to say?” is something I ask myself a lot when writing.

  13. Kamm is rather a tit.

    I’ve got to say, for someone who is such a condescending, sanctimonious twat towards other people I found this article brought about a wry smile. Not that I read it past the paywall, the headline and photo was enough.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that those who publish their battles with depression and anxiety to the world looking for sympathy are often absolute dickheads online. I feel there’s a connection there somewhere.

  14. Diogenes: you’ve prompted me to have another look and, indeed, tendentiousness does figure under tendentiousy but not under its own heading which is why I failed to spot it first time around. One up to you.

  15. @dearime, Tim N.

    Wow, Kamm is more than just a pompous prick, he is a really nasty piece of work.

    I’m glad he’s not happy.

    They say being nice to people cheers you up, so perhaps it follows that being a malicious cunt makes you depressed.

  16. John Square: “There’s an image: a surgeon, knife in hand, looking over Kamm saying “I’ll just slash around the wobbly thing to get to the jellyfish-looking bit and then we’ll have a lookie-see at the whoosamajig that always reminds me of a poorly-set blancmange.”

    Brilliant. One of the benefits of learning Latin at school, I thought, was that you had to boil down exactly what you were trying to say before you could translate it into Latin.

  17. I have revised my opinion of Kamm entirely in the last few minutes. He is actually a proper, full-bore mental.

    If you look at the reviews of his book on Amazon, every single negative review and any positive review with any criticism has a snippy comment from ‘Adolf Corbyn’ who – unsurprisingly – has not a single Amazon review to his name.

    Loony.

  18. I wonder how supportive Kamm would be of “ambiguous terms” if he was being wheeled into an operating theatre and they were being used by the surgeon?

    No need to even go that far: ask him how he’s teaching his kids how to speak and write. As has been noted over at my place on the same subject, those who are most keen on encouraging everyone else to adopt a post-modern version of English speak with a plumb in their throat and know full well that anyone applying to *their* jobs after taking their advice would get roundly rejected.

  19. If you look at the reviews of his book on Amazon, every single negative review and any positive review with any criticism has a snippy comment from ‘Adolf Corbyn’ who – unsurprisingly – has not a single Amazon review to his name.

    I saw that too. But Kamm has his disciples, who normally jump in to save the Great Man Himself from lowering himself to respond to plebs who take issue with him. I once queried something of his and had Daniel Finkelstein running about saying “Absurd! Absurd!” like a PG Wodehouse character after he stuck his beak in to help his fellow hack.

  20. I’ve had kind words said about my technical reporting, because while I try to maintain precision and proper use of language when it’s necessary… I also really try to avoid the convoluted, third-person, passive(-aggressive?) voice that so many reports seem to think gives them gravitas but actually just pads length and makes them sound portentiously self-important.

    “A wide-ranging review of open source literature and social media postings was conducted and after analysis, it was unavoidably concluded that the subject was poorly understood by the majority of contributors with some opinions expressed being at considerable variance with the known facts” really does, in my mind, read better as “Most of the public discussion of the subject is ill-informed or actually incorrect.”… but I have had arguments over that. (Yes, you need to show you’ve actually researched and reviewed properly. That evidence goes in an annex for anyone wanting to check…)

    Managers seem to like the JSP101itis style because word count and length mean “they’re delivering more” and it’s “better analysis” and “it’s what they’re used to” – but the customer actually prefers something short, readable and to the point, with the summary conclusions in the executive summary for an easy BLUF (the Brigadier will only get told that bit), an outline of “why I think so” in the main body supported by a couple of nice clear graphs (which the SO1 will skim to make sure he agrees with what he’s going to tell the Brigadier) and the details and hard sums in the annexes (which prove I’m not just making it up if anyone seriously disputes my conclusions)

    As per Orwell’s essay, it’s actually rather harder and more time-consuming to do than just chuck words at the page and seeing which stick, but I also like the old Churchill line – “This report, by its very length, defends itself against ever being read”.

  21. Tim N, I’m sure Olly has his fans and that some Times hacks might support him on twatter, but there’s about 20 comments. I doubt anyone likes him that much…

    Imagine living next to the fucker! I bet his garden is full of 70 ft leylandii he’s grown to get back at the neighbour who gently mocked his choice of tie five years ago.

  22. Actually, Kamm’s conduct on Twitter seems to swing between arselicking various journalists and scholars he admires and making vindictive remarks at those he considers beneath him. He’d make a cracking corporate manager, come to think of it.

  23. “with a plumb in their throat”: do you mean a plumb bob?

    Very engineery.

    Or are you referring to plum in the mouth accents? Do they still exist? I’m not sure I’ve heard the real thing in years, save for a few occasions when I’ve heard ancients chatting. On the whole I find it easier to make out what those codgers say than The Young, whose consonants and cadences are all wrong. I’d complain of their vowels too, if they had any, but mainly they deploy diphthongs. S u ay way ow.

  24. Kamm and I were at university at the same time and, while I didn’t know him, I knew a couple of people who did.

    They described him as “pompous”. I remember thinking at the time that acquiring that label, while still an undergraduate, requires an uncommon amount of self-regard.

    I’m guessing the whole issue is problematic.

  25. Social Justice Warrior

    Orwell didn’t really mean it when he wrote “Never use the passive where you can use the active.”. See pp20-21 here.

  26. @ Mr Ecks
    The witch-king of Angmar has/had enough gravitas to destroy kingdoms – it is granting unwarranted status to Oliver Kamm to mention him on the same page.

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