Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946) is one of the best-known essays by George Orwell (1903-50). As its title suggests, Orwell identifies a link between the (degraded) English language of his time and the degraded political situation: Orwell sees modern discourse (especially political discourse) as being less a matter of words chosen for their clear meanings than a series of stock phrases slung together.

You can read ‘Politics and the English Language’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of Orwell’s essay below.

‘Politics and the English Language’: summary

Orwell begins by drawing attention to the strong link between the language writers use and the quality of political thought in the current age (i.e. the 1940s). He argues that if we use language that is slovenly and decadent, it makes it easier for us to fall into bad habits of thought, because language and thought are so closely linked.

Orwell then gives five examples of what he considers bad political writing. He draws attention to two faults which all five passages share: staleness of imagery and lack of precision . Either the writers of these passages had a clear meaning to convey but couldn’t express it clearly, or they didn’t care whether they communicated any particular meaning at all, and were simply saying things for the sake of it.

Orwell writes that this is a common problem in current political writing: ‘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 hen-house.’

Next, Orwell elaborates on the key faults of modern English prose, namely:

Dying Metaphors : these are figures of speech which writers lazily reach for, even though such phrases are worn-out and can no longer convey a vivid image. Orwell cites a number of examples, including toe the line , no axe to grind , Achilles’ heel , and swansong . Orwell’s objection to such dying metaphors is that writers use them without even thinking about what the phrases actually mean, such as when people misuse toe the line by writing it as tow the line , or when they mix their metaphors, again, because they’re not interested in what those images evoke.

Operators or Verbal False Limbs : this is when a longer and rather vague phrase is used in place of a single-word (and more direct) verb, e.g. make contact with someone, which essentially means ‘contact’ someone. The passive voice is also common, and writing phrases like by examination of instead of the more direct by examining . Sentences are saved from fizzling out (because the thought or idea being conveyed is not particularly striking) by largely meaningless closing platitudes such as greatly to be desired or brought to a satisfactory conclusion .

Pretentious Diction : Orwell draws attention to several areas here. He states that words like objective , basis , and eliminate are used by writers to dress up simple statements, making subjective opinion sound like scientific fact. Adjectives like epic , historic , and inevitable are used about international politics, while writing that glorifies war is full of old-fashioned words like realm , throne , and sword .

Foreign words and phrases like deus ex machina and mutatis mutandis are used to convey an air of culture and elegance. Indeed, many modern English writers are guilty of using Latin or Greek words in the belief that they are ‘grander’ than home-grown Anglo-Saxon ones: Orwell mentions Latinate words like expedite and ameliorate here. All of these examples are further proof of the ‘slovenliness and vagueness’ which Orwell detects in modern political prose.

Meaningless Words : Orwell argues that much art criticism and literary criticism in particular is full of words which don’t really mean anything at all, e.g. human , living , or romantic . ‘Fascism’, too, has lost all meaning in current political writing, effectively meaning ‘something not desirable’ (one wonders what Orwell would make of the word’s misuse in our current time!).

To prove his point, Orwell ‘translates’ a well-known passage from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes into modern English, with all its vagueness of language. ‘The whole tendency of modern prose’, he argues, ‘is away from concreteness.’ He draws attention to the concrete and everyday images (e.g. references to bread and riches) in the Bible passage, and the lack of any such images in his own fabricated rewriting of this passage.

The problem, Orwell says, is that it is too easy (and too tempting) to reach for these off-the-peg phrases than to be more direct or more original and precise in one’s speech or writing.

Orwell advises every writer to ask themselves four questions (at least): 1) what am I trying to say? 2) what words will express it? 3) what image or idiom will make it clearer? and 4) is this image fresh enough to have an effect? He proposes two further optional questions: could I put it more shortly? and have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Orthodoxy, Orwell goes on to observe, tends to encourage this ‘lifeless, imitative style’, whereas rebels who are not parroting the ‘party line’ will normally write in a more clear and direct style.

But Orwell also argues that such obfuscating language serves a purpose: much political writing is an attempt to defend the indefensible, such as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan (just one year before Orwell wrote ‘Politics and the English Language’), in such a euphemistic way that the ordinary reader will find it more palatable.

When your aim is to make such atrocities excusable, language which doesn’t evoke any clear mental image (e.g. of burning bodies in Hiroshima) is actually desirable.

Orwell argues that just as thought corrupts language, language can corrupt thought, with these ready-made phrases preventing writers from expressing anything meaningful or original. He believes that we should get rid of any word which has outworn its usefulness and should aim to use ‘the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning’.

Writers should let the meaning choose the word, rather than vice versa. We should think carefully about what we want to say until we have the right mental pictures to convey that thought in the clearest language.

Orwell concludes ‘Politics and the English Language’ with six rules for the writer to follow:

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

ii) Never use 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.

‘Politics and the English Language’: analysis

In some respects, ‘Politics and the English Language’ advances an argument about good prose language which is close to what the modernist poet and thinker T. E. Hulme (1883-1917) argued for poetry in his ‘ A Lecture on Modern Poetry ’ and ‘Notes on Language and Style’ almost forty years earlier.

Although Hulme and Orwell came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, their objections to lazy and worn-out language stem are in many ways the same.

Hulme argued that poetry should be a forge where fresh metaphors are made: images which make us see the world in a slightly new way. But poetic language decays into common prose language before dying a lingering death in journalists’ English. The first time a poet described a hill as being ‘clad [i.e. clothed] with trees’, the reader would probably have mentally pictured such an image, but in time it loses its power to make us see anything.

Hulme calls these worn-out expressions ‘counters’, because they are like discs being moved around on a chessboard: an image which is itself not unlike Orwell’s prefabricated hen-house in ‘Politics and the English Language’.

Of course, Orwell’s focus is English prose rather than poetry, and his objections to sloppy writing are not principally literary (although that is undoubtedly a factor) but, above all, political. And he is keen to emphasise that his criticism of bad language, and suggestions for how to improve political writing, are both, to an extent, hopelessly idealistic: as he observes towards the end of ‘Politics and the English Language’, ‘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.’

But what Orwell advises is that the writer be on their guard against such phrases, the better to avoid them where possible. This is why he encourages writers to be more self-questioning (‘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?’) when writing political prose.

Nevertheless, the link between the standard of language and the kind of politics a particular country, regime, or historical era has is an important one. As Orwell writes: ‘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.’

Those writing under a dictatorship cannot write or speak freely, of course, but more importantly, those defending totalitarian rule must bend and abuse language in order to make ugly truths sound more attractive to the general populace, and perhaps to other nations.

In more recent times, the phrase ‘collateral damage’ is one of the more objectionable phrases used about war, hiding the often ugly reality (innocent civilians who are unfortunate victims of violence, but who are somehow viewed as a justifiable price to pay for the greater good).

Although Orwell’s essay has been criticised for being too idealistic, in many ways ‘Politics and the English Language’ remains as relevant now as it was in 1946 when it was first published.

Indeed, to return to Orwell’s opening point about decadence, it is unavoidable that the standard of political discourse has further declined since Orwell’s day. Perhaps it’s time a few more influential writers started heeding his argument?

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9 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’”

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YES! Thank you!

A great and useful post. As a writer, I have been seriously offended by the politicization of the language in the past 50 years. Much of this is supposedly to sanitize, de-genderize, or diversity-fie language – exactly as it’s done in Orwell’s “1984.” How did a wonderfully useful word like gay – cheerful or lively – come to mean homosexual? And is optics not a branch of physics? Ironically, when the liberal but sensible JK Rowling criticized the replacement of “woman” with “person who menstruates” SHE was the one attacked. Now, God help us, we hope “crude” spaceships will get humans to Mars – which, if you research the poor quality control in Tesla cars, might in fact be a proper term.

And less anyone out there misread, this or me – I was a civil rights marcher, taught in a girls’ high school (where I got in minor trouble for suggesting to the students that they should aim higher than the traditional jobs of nurse or teacher), and – while somewhat of a mugwump – consider myself a liberal.

But I will fight to keep the language and the history from being 1984ed.

My desert island book would be the Everyman Essays of Orwell which is around 1200 pages. I’ve read it all the way through twice without fatigue and read individual essays endlessly. His warmth and affability help, Even better than Montaigne in this heretic’s view.

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I’ll go against the flow here and say Orwell was – at least in part – quite wrong here. If I recall correctly, he was wrong about a few things including, I think, the right way to make a cup of tea! In all seriousness, what he fails to acknowledge in this essay is that language is a living thing and belongs to the people, not the theorists, at all time. If a metaphor changes because of homophone mix up or whatever, then so be it. Many of our expressions we have little idea of now – I think of ‘baited breath’ which almost no one, even those who know how it should be spelt, realise should be ‘abated breath’.

Worse than this though, his ‘rules’ have indeed been taken up by many would-be writers to horrifying effect. I recall learning to make up new metaphors and similes rather than use clichés when I first began training ten years ago or more. I saw some ghastly new metaphors over time which swiftly made me realise that there’s a reason we use the same expressions a great deal and that is they are familiar and do the job well. To look at how to use them badly, just try reading Gregory David Roberts ‘Shantaram’. Similarly, the use of active voice has led to unpalatable writing which lacks character. The passive voice may well become longwinded when badly used, but it brings character when used well.

That said, Orwell is rarely completely wrong. Some of his points – essentially, use words you actually understand and don’t be pretentious – are valid. But the idea of the degradation of politics is really quite a bit of nonsense!

Always good to get some critique of Orwell, Ken! And I do wonder how tongue-in-cheek he was when proposing his guidelines – after all, even he admits he’s probably broken several of his own rules in the course of his essay! I think I’m more in the T. E. Hulme camp than the Orwell – poetry can afford to bend language in new ways (indeed, it often should do just this), and create daring new metaphors and ways of viewing the world. But prose, especially political non-fiction, is there to communicate an argument or position, and I agree that ghastly new metaphors would just get in the way. One of the things that is refreshing reading Orwell is how many of the problems he identified are still being discussed today, often as if they are new problems that didn’t exist a few decades ago. Orwell shows that at least one person was already discussing them over half a century ago!

Absolutely true! When you have someone of Orwell’s intelligence and clear thinking, even when you believe him wrong or misguided, he is still relevant and remains so decades later.

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Politics and the English Language

This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the US, and is reproduced here with the permission of the Orwell Estate . If you value these resources, please consider making a donation or joining us as a Friend to help maintain them for readers everywhere. 

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 ( Interglossia ). 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 A 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 hen-house. 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 cudgels 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 without 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 , prove unacceptable , make contact with , be subject 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-purposes 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 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 from 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 simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biassed judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making , epic , historic , unforgettable , triumphant , age-old , inevitable , inexorable , veritable , are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, 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 régime , 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 English. 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 , sub-aqueous and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers[1]. 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 a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind ( deregionalize , impermissible , extramarital , non-fragmentatory 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[2]. 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 even 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 régime 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 consideration of contemporary phenomena compels 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 phrase ‘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’ consideration 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 analyse these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its 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 90 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 53 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: 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. 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 colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial atrocities , iron heel , blood-stained 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 favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence 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 political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless 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 régime 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 rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines 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 that 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 fly-blown 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[3], 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 defence 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 about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to 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 visualising, you probably hunt about till 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 meanings 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 impression 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 use 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.

Horizon, April 1946

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politics in the english language essay

“Politics and the English Language.” By George Orwell.

LITERATURE MATTERS

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell poses a thoughtful question: Does language experience “natural growth” or is it shaped “for our own purposes”? In other words, does the English language organically evolve over time or is it purposefully manipulated in order to affect the social order? Anyone familiar with Orwell’s body of work can probably guess at the trajectory of his response. Although one could argue that this seminal essay on 20th-century linguistics was written merely to lament the “general collapse” of language as a reflection of the general collapse of civilization following the Second World War, Orwell’s ultimate purpose is to show that social activists can unduly manipulate language for their own ends by obscuring meaning, corrupting thought, and rendering language a minefield in the political landscape. Why? Orwell says: to effect changes in thought and affections and to shame those who somehow prove impervious to manipulation.

Orwell dramatizes this assertion in Nineteen Eighty-Four . Published three years after “Politics and the English Language,” the iconic dystopic novel imagines a futuristic government that manipulates language so that its citizens conform in thought, word, and deed to a narrow political orthodoxy. Language, in fact, is the primary change agent, assisted by government-engineered fearmongering and savage punishments for language dissidents.

Just as language matters in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four , it matters in our world too. Consider, for example, the basics of “inclusive language.” Back when Orwell was writing, and throughout much of the 20th century, the accepted universal singular pronouns were he , him , and his , a reality codified in every English grammar text published before 1999. These pronouns referred to any individual, whether male or female, as in “Every student should bring his book to class.” The meaning was clear, the convention was understood, and because it was an accepted grammatical convention, no one was denounced as sexist for applying its usage. Some years later, in an effort to be “inclusive,” language handlers in academia and the publishing industry pointed out that the convention itself was sexist and reinforced sexism in society. If they could change the convention, they reasoned, they could change society.

The language handlers first promoted the alternative “inclusive” usage of he or she , him or her , and his or hers — and soon thereafter demanded it. Those who continued using traditional grammatical constructions that included the universal pronouns he , him , and his (especially men) were often branded, on the basis of their grammar alone, as sexists. But mere social stigma later gave way to punitive actions. For example, in 2013, California State University, Chico, revised its definition of sexual harassment and sexual violence to include “continual use of generic masculine terms such as to refer to people of both sexes.” Thus, Chico profs who say, “Every student should bring his book to class” are susceptible to disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal. As you might imagine, Chico is not alone in this. Rather, this is the norm on most college campuses.

But now, in 2020, it is no longer acceptable to use he or she or him or her . What was once promoted and then demanded by language handlers as inclusive has now been deemed verboten by the same people! Who are these language handlers? In brief, they are the engineers of the English-language style manuals used by academia, the media, and the publishing industry, all easy prey to special-interest lobbyists who demand language changes to promote their sociopolitical agendas. Last year, for example, the American Psychological Association (APA) announced a change to its stylebook, advocating for the singular they because it is “inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender.” The APA style guide makes it clear that using his or her is no longer inclusive and no longer acceptable. This could not have happened without the proponents of transgenderism pushing for the manipulation of language. In order for the APA’s statement to make any sense — “they…is inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender” — one is forced to accept the premises of transgenderism, including the theory of so-called nonbinary gender. If one is to accept the usage of the singular they , one must also accept the fantasy that an infinite number of genders exists and that language is tied to something called “gender expression” rather than to sex, which is binary (i.e., male and female).

In 2018 the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) released a “Statement on Gender and Language,” promoting the use of the singular they as the only inclusive universal pronoun. In its position statement, the NCTE actually spells out the premises one must accept in order to make sense of the singular they . This is not about language clarity or precision; this is about advancing a sociopolitical agenda that requires everyone — yes, everyone — to accept the following terms:

Gender identity: an individual’s feeling about, relationship with, and understanding of gender as it pertains to their sense of self. An individual’s gender identity may or may not be related to the sex that individual was assigned at birth.

Gender expression: external presentation of one’s gender identity, often through behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice, which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Cisgender: of or relating to a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender: of or relating to a person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. This umbrella term may refer to someone whose gender identity is woman or man, or to someone whose gender identity is nonbinary (see below).

Nonbinary: of or relating to a person who does not identify, or identify solely, as either a woman or a man. More specific nonbinary identifiers include but are not limited to terms such as agender and gender fluid (see below).

Gender fluid: of or relating to individuals whose identity shifts among genders. This term overlaps with terms such as genderqueer and bigender, implying movement among gender identities and/or presentations.

Agender: of or relating to a person who does not identify with any gender, or who identifies as neutral or genderless.

The NCTE, like the APA, the Chicago Manual of Style , and the Associated Press, not only advocates using the singular they , it also prohibits “using he as a universal pronoun” and “using binary alternatives such as he/she , he or she , or (s)he .” And, in case you don’t understand the prohibition, the NCTE provides an example of the forbidden “exclusionary (binary)” language: “Every cast member should know his or her lines by Friday” must be rephrased as “Every cast member should know their lines by Friday.” But the new convention presents an offense against the dignity of traditional grammar usage, as the plural pronoun, their, does not agree with its singular subject, cast member . (Really now, a simpler rewrite would render the sentence both grammatically correct and “inclusive”: All cast members should know their lines by Friday .) And, according to NCTE, in the case of a student named Alex, who declares that his preferred pronouns are they , them , and their, a teacher should say, “Alex needs to learn their lines by Friday.” Yes, seriously, this is the example given by the NCTE. (And whose lines, one may ask? Everyone’s lines? This phrasing is lacking in precision and clarity, and this from the organization that exerts enormous influence over our nation’s high-school English teachers!) To be sure, teachers and students will be forced to utter the ridiculous: Alex needs to learn their lines by Friday . Failing to do so could, in the near future, be construed as gender harassment and be cause for expulsion or sacking.

So, why does it matter what the APA or the Chicago Manual of Style or the NCTE has to say on the matter of nonbinary, gender-inclusive language and the singular they ? Well, the APA sets the writing style and format conventions for academic essays for many college and high-school students, as well as for scholarly articles and books. The Chicago Manual of Style (published by the University of Chicago) sets the editorial standards and conventions that are widely used in the publishing industry. And the NCTE, as mentioned above, sets the tone for high-school English teachers across the nation, those who will teach our children to read, write, and speak.

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell calls this “an invasion of one’s mind” — again, the purposeful manipulation of language in order to corrupt one’s thoughts and affections. Thus, the choice of academia, the media, and the publishing industry to adopt the singular they is not simply about word choice — as silly and illogical as it may be: Alex needs to learn their lines by Friday! — it is about forcing students and others to accept the language of transgenderism and the ideological corollaries behind the vocabulary. It is asking us all to accept something that is less than reality. Pronouns, we are told, are no longer related to the body (male and female) but to the mind, how one “identifies” or “expresses” the social construct of gender. Reality is denied, and the fluid world of one’s nonbinary fancy replaces it.

It is worth noting that last year the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education published a 30-page document, “Male and Female He Created Them,” on this very topic. Quoting Pope Francis, it explains that gender theory “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.” This ideology, Pope Francis explains, promotes “a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.” Thus, in the case of the Catholic educator or the Catholic student, one must compromise one’s religious principles in order to conform to the industry standards of language.

This attempt to transplant pronouns from the body to the mind, Orwell might say, is an attempt to destroy our ability to communicate. According to this new norm, one can now choose from a multitude of “gender identities” — or simply make up a new one — none of which has any fixed link to a specific set of pronouns. (Some recently emerging gender pronouns include zir, ze, xe, hir, per, ve, ey, hen , and thon . And there are more! Facebook, for example, offers 50 options. Fifty!) In fact, following this reasoning, gender expressionists may, at any time and for any reason, decide to change their preferred personal pronouns but without changing their gender identity; they may also decide to change their gender identity without changing their preferred pronouns — or they may choose to change both.

This is the kind of linguistic pretension that, as Orwell warns, obscures meaning, corrupts thought, and renders language a minefield in the political landscape. Why a minefield? As Orwell illustrated in Nineteen Eighty-Four , language-engineering is an attempt to shame or punish those who disagree with the ascribed linguistic orthodoxy. And, again, to what end? As Chicago-based community activist Saul Alinsky famously wrote in his manifesto Rules for Radicals (1971), “He who controls the language controls the masses.” (Note his use of “sexist language” by way of the universal singular pronoun he. ) Alinsky, an enthusiastic advocate of manipulating language for political purposes, agrees with Orwell: It’s all about thought control; it’s about superimposing a sociopolitical ideology on the masses; it’s about altering our understanding of the world; it’s about customizing the language to effect whimsical social change. It’s ultimately about altering reality so that, as Orwell dramatized in Nineteen Eighty-Four , we come to accept that “war is peace,” that “freedom is slavery,” and that two plus two equals five.

Orwell, as evidenced by “Politics and the English Language,” believes that language should reflect reality. If it doesn’t, what possible limits could be placed on misleading, manipulative language, whether in grade-school textbooks, government documents, or political campaign literature? If language is “always evolving,” as many commentators have reasoned in their recent support of so-called nonbinary, gender-inclusive language (including the singular they ), what is stopping anyone from using this as an excuse to effect any change in any language for any reason at any time?

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Politics and the English Language

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George Orwell

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1946

Plot Summary

George Orwell’s essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is a critique of the conventions of written English in the modernist and post-World War II era, focusing specifically on the correlation between political correctness and intellectual and linguistic poverty. Orwell lambasts people who use language as a tool to obfuscate, rather than convey, truth, arguing that language, though political, should never be weaponized with the intent to exploit vulnerable readers. Moreover, he remarks that such a use of language masks truth even from the one who thinks of and deploys it. The essay is well known for being an unusually literal and didactic departure from Orwell’s usual subject matter, which employs extended metaphors that refer to economic and class issues. The essay appears in the essay collection, Why I Write . Read further analysis of "Politics and the English Language" in the SuperSummary Study Guide for Why I Write .

Orwell relates what he sees as a direct correlation between bad writing and oppressive thought. He characterizes virtually all contemporary political speech and political prose as written to defend, minimize, or obfuscate atrocities and blatant inequities occurring in society. He gives the examples of continued British colonization of India on both political and ideological lines, as well as Russian deportations of Jews and dissenting figures, and the United States’ decision to decimate Hiroshima with an atom bomb. Though these actions, like any action, can be defended, the arguments that they necessitate require language that is too harsh for public consumption and conflicts with the professed aims of the political parties who wish to advocate for them. As a result, political language now relies mainly on minimizing language to euphemisms and deliberate vagueness. For example, the violent seizure of an enemy town might be termed “pacification,” while driving citizens from their homelands in mass deportations might be called a “transfer of population.” Orwell traces this linguistic phenomenon to the fact that vague language prevents one’s audience from coming to immediate terms with the often-violent realities that are its referents.

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Next, Orwell posits that insincerity is inimical to clarity of thought and language. Whenever there is a lacuna between a writer or speaker’s real and stated goals, the writer resorts to overly complex or grandiose language and overused idioms . He employs the simile of a cuttlefish spurting out ink to elude its foe. When writers, the supposed champions and representatives of their audience’s conception of language’s abilities and ends, disguise their points in strange diction, they perpetuate the ideologies of doublethink and euphemism. This kicks off a vicious cycle where language perpetually declines as language users resort to simpler and simpler words and phrasings. He compares this to the pathology of the alcoholic, who usually begins drinking excessively because he already feels like a failure. As he continues to drink, he ensures his failure, instigating his own fulfillment of this destructive attribution.

Orwell points out two more devices that insincere writers use. One is pretentious diction; that is, the use of overly complex or academic words to express biased viewpoints as if they were scientific and unbiased. The other is meaningless diction, the substitution of filler words where real arguments should be to exhaust the reader’s attention before reaching the crux of an argument. He states that these habits spread mainly by imitation, creating a kind of linguistic virus that propagates through various media. He argues that it behooves writers to help their audience think more clearly by themselves thinking more clearly and producing lucid writing that matches the content of their imaginations.

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Orwell concludes with a list of six rules that form a simple and finite axiomatic program to generate compelling and lucid writing. He poses the list as a remedy to the constant temptation to deploy meaningless diction, which always threatens to arrest and stifle the intellectual potential of the writer. The first rule is to never use a simile, metaphor, or any other figure of speech that one has already seen frequently used in other texts. He calls these “dying metaphors,” asserting that they are generally used when a writer doesn’t actually know what he or she means. Additionally, because of their vagueness and overuse, they are highly susceptible to manipulation in meaning. The second rule is to never use a longer word when a short word suffices as a unit of meaning. The third is to remove excess words that do not advance the argument or image under consideration. The fourth is to avoid passive voice . The fifth is to avoid using foreign, scientific, or overly dialectical words when there is an ordinary equivalent in a given language. The sixth and final rule is Orwell’s exhortation to willingly break these rules if it prevents one from saying something “barbarous.” Orwell ends his essay on a slightly optimistic note, arguing that the decline of the English language is reversible, and can be enacted by following rules such as the ones he has laid out.

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Politics And The English Language

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Politics and the English Language

George orwell, ask litcharts ai: the answer to your questions.

The Danger of Intellectual Laziness Theme Icon

The Danger of Intellectual Laziness

In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell ’s central point is that bad writing produces bad politics. According to Orwell, a culture full of lazily written nonsense enables governments to control citizens through deceptive messaging. This is because lazy writing leads to lazy thinking—or, rather, to a lack of critical thinking about the messages one receives. To get from bad writing to bad politics, Orwell draws a line from laziness, to nonsensical…

The Danger of Intellectual Laziness Theme Icon

Style as a Political Issue

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell pays careful attention to style—that is, how a person says something: the tone, syntax, flow of sentences, metaphors, and choice of words. He argues that the style in which people communicate determines the degree to which their governments can pass off lies as truths. In doing so, Orwell attempts to convince a politically minded audience that the specific way people express themselves—that is, their language itself—is inseparable from…

Style as a Political Issue Theme Icon

Honesty, Truth, and Concision

In addition to arguing against linguistic laziness, Orwell argues specifically for a writing process that encourages concision—that is, using as few words as possible to get a point across. Indeed, two of his proposed rules for good writing include: “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Underlining this argument is the idea that reality or facts (or…

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Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay Research Paper

Introduction, decline of english language, politics and english language, improving the language, works cited.

English language, unlike other languages, is very strict in its usage. According to Taylor (4), English language has faced a lot of transformation over time. Several factors have contributed to this evolution of this language. This scholar states that this language is the second most spoken language in the world after Chinese.

Different groups of people will speak this language differently based on their place of birth and the first language. The way words are pronounced by different individuals from different parts of the world clearly demonstrates this variation. Some of the variations are so big that one may fail to understand what another speaker is saying.

This is sometimes worsened by the fact that some people consider introducing their first language into English, creating what Meyers (3) refers to as slung. This is very common in the political language. This study focuses on the works of George Orwell about the use and misuse of the language titled “Politics and the English Language.”

George Orwell has carefully analyzed the use of English language both it its written and spoken form. In this article, Orwell brings out the fact that English language is constantly deteriorating as the world globalizes. Although this is the second most spoken language in the world, it is always seen as the most important language in the world. It may be because of this reason that there has been a massive attempt by individuals from around the world to get an understanding of this language.

As civilization continues around the world, the language is getting worse with each passing day. It is of concern that the society seem to be comfortable with this distortion. Orwell laments, “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” .

He says that the society has become so accustomed to this poor language that it has become impossible to persuade them out of it. An attempt to convince people to desist from the language is like telling them to avid what is considered trendier. That is why Orwell is comparing this emerging English language to an electric light and the traditional English language to a candle.

It is a fact that as the world globalizes, there is increased number of people speaking this language. However, this does not mean that the language spoken in these areas are not Standard English.

In fact, there has been a consistent decline in the standard language. This distortion of the language may be because of some little ignorance that was ignored when they first appeared in this language. According to Orwell, the effect of a distorted language seems to be the cause of further distortion of the language. This scholar says that some individuals resign to their fate.

He says, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Orwell compares a man who uses the effect of a little failure in the English language as a reason to the deterioration of both spoken and written English. An individual will consider him or herself a failure and therefore use failure as an excuse to the deterioration of spoken English. Like a drunkard, the effect will be used to compound the whole process.

Orwell says that misuse of the language is common even in the media. He says that it is common to hear and read substandard language in media. The misuse of the language has become so serious that it is currently finding its way into the classrooms. This scholar says a number of ways in which individuals in various capacities are dodging the Standard English in their speech and writings exist.

The report by Larkin (12) supports the argument of this scholar. This scholar says that media has been one of the leading sources of distortion of the language. This scholar says that misuse of the language is common to both the media presenters and reporters, and the people they bring to the media.

This scholar brings to focus an incident that hit the headlines of many newspapers and televisions around the world. A reporter in a West African country was reporting on an accident. The reporter said, “They are in furu furu condition” to mean that the individuals spoken about were drunk. What this reporter wanted to say was that the individuals were in full full condition , which in its improved form, is still not a Standard English.

This incident was a perfect demonstration of how an effect can be a perfect cause of a phenomenon. Because this report was listened to over the radios, television and the print media, it became a common terms, almost a cliché within a very short period. Instead of saying that an individual is drunk, one would say that the individual is in full condition .

The expression ‘full condition’ in this case has been given a completely new meaning that did not exist before. This is what George Orwell is describing as a ‘verbal false limb’. They slowly get into the mainstream language and like cancer, the get accepted and steadily displace the traditional English expressions.

According to Orwell, there is a close link between language flaws and politics. In politics, there is always the pressure to impress the audience. One is always forced to use the power of word in order to convince the audience that he is the best. This shows that when such an individual is offered an opportunity, he will be able to tackle most of their problems. To do this, diction is very important. A politician will always try to show a mastery of language by using very complex and flowery language.

Simile and metaphors become very vital, and any extra word or expression that will make the sentence more flowery is always welcome. According to Orwell, “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.”

In traditional English, there is always a rule that one should avoid double negatives in a sentence. The phrase above does not observe this. The expression “ not and unjustifiable” as it appears above is not a Standard English. This is because the sentence can be simplified further as justifiable. However, when people in authority make such statements, they become easily acceptable.

They always infiltrate the academic sector first. Students who consider these leaders as their role model will start using such language without the knowledge that such expressions are not standard. This clearly demonstrates the fact that there is a direct relationship between politics and the language.

According to Orwell, politics has become so entrenched in the society that “there is no such thing as keeping out of politics.” Our society is defined by politics. Orwell says that language and politics is closely connected both directly and indirectly.

Orwell laments that politics a large mass of lies, folly, evasion, and hatred. Because of the evasive nature of the language, it becomes convenient for them to come up with a language that is evasive to help hide their intention. They have to find a way of expressing statements in a way that does not reveal their real intention.

The language they use become so entrenched in the society that they become part of people. According to the report by Hitchens (17), the sentiments of Orwell are valid. Politics has redefined the way some of the phrases are made. This scholar emphasizes the elusiveness and deceitful nature of politics and politicians. This scholar says that in politics, people may be forced to say statements that they do not mean.

At times, this scholar says that politicians are found in dilemma where they have to address an issue that is considered controversial. When a politician is faced with a situation that will demand that he makes a choice between two issues, and the choice comes with some form of consequences, the politician will always try to gamble and win both factions.

To achieve this, it will force such a politician to use a language that will be pleasant to both sides. This may involve coming up with a language that will make his opinion or choice appear to appease both sides. This creates a scenario where no straightforward statements that can help express opinion of an individual exist.

English as a language has become very common. A large number of people around the world speak it and many more are aspiring to know the language. Language is an important tool of communication. It is also a fact that languages also undergo evolution that may make them change in a way that reflects the current society. This is especially so as technology keeps on bringing new items and phenomenon that must find a name and an expression.

However, it is important to develop the traditional language based on the emerging trends in the society. When one decides to replace the traditional expressions, words or sentences with others that crop up spontaneously, then the language will lose its meaning. An individual from the United States may not be able to communicate with another from Britain because the two speak different languages while still claiming to speak English language.

To do this, it is important for an individual to avoid usage of similes and metaphors or other figurative languages that may be common in the media. An individual should also avoid using long words where short words can be used. Above all, one should avoid sentences that do not make sense even to themselves. This is the only way the language can be protected.

Bounds, Philip. Orwell and Marxism: The Political and Cultural Thinking of George Orwell . New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009. Print.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters . New York: Basic Books, 2003. Print.

Larkin, Emma. Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop . New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Meyers, Jeffery. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation . New York: W.W.Norton, 2000. Print.

Taylor, Derrick. Orwell: The Life . New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, July 8). Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politics-and-english-language/

"Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay." IvyPanda , 8 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/politics-and-english-language/.

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IvyPanda . 2020. "Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay." July 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politics-and-english-language/.

1. IvyPanda . "Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay." July 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politics-and-english-language/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay." July 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politics-and-english-language/.

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Writers on Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”

If you’ve ever thought of yourself as a writer, chances are that you have opinions about George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” First published in 1946, it has since become required reading for intro-level writing classes, as well as an obligatory citation when discussing politics and rhetoric. From glowing exaltations to severe critiques, I was curious what working writers had to say about the famed essay. I mined NYPL’s Articles & Databases to find out.

If you’re unfamiliar with “Politics and the English Language,” the Library has you covered! You can read it in NYPL’s Articles & Databases or in the Orwell collection All Art Is Propaganda compiled by George Packer.

Portrait photo of George Orwell

George Orwell via Wikimedia Commons

From “Left Field” Ed Smith | New Statesman | 2013 We live in a self-consciously plain-spoken political era. But Orwell’s advice, ironically, has not elevated the substance of debate; it has merely helped the political class to avoid the subject more skilfully. […] Using plain and clear language is not a moral virtue, as Orwell hoped. Things aren’t that simple. In fact, giving the impression of clarity and straightforwardness is often a strategic game. The way we speak and the way we write are both forms of dress. We can, linguistically, dress ourselves up any way we like. We can affect plainness and directness just as much as we can affect sophistication and complexity. We can try to mislead or to impress, in either mode. Or we can use either register honestly.

From “Review: Author, Author” Steven Poole | The Guardian | 2013 Orwell’s assault on political euphemism, then, is righteous but limited. His more general attacks in “Politics” on what he perceives to be bad style are often outright ridiculous, parading a comically arbitrary collection of intolerances. […]If you ever feel tempted to say “status quo” or “cul de sac,” for instance, Orwell will sneer at you for “pretentious diction.” Why pretentious? Because these phrases are of “foreign” origin. […] Yet if we strip the language down to what there is a “real need” for, whither poetry? Allow only the words that Orwell thinks necessary, and the resulting stunted lexicon is itself a kind of functionalist, impoverished Newspeak.

From “Why We Need to Call a Pig a Pig (With or Without Lipstick)” Jennie Yabroff | Newsweek | 2008 [Orwell] was less interested in what motivates people to act without integrity than in the words they use to camouflage and perpetuate their dishonesty: for Orwell, bad language and bad politics were one and the same. Yet for all his penury and despair, his faith in the power of clear, strong language can only be read as optimistic. Today, the writer’s name is invoked to describe anything involving surveillance, paranoia, or even books about animals. Orwell’s ideas have been bastardized and simplified over time […] Rather than describing surveillance devices, or pig farms, a more accurate application of the adjective would mean something that aspires to the lucidity and integrity of Orwell’s writing. In that case, it would be the highest praise.

From “Musing About Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’—50 Years Later” Sanford Pinsker | Virginia Quarterly Review | 1997 [T]hose who should know better, and more important, whose responsibility it is to pass along a healthy respect for language are often the same people who take a special delight in giving “Politics and the English Language” the scholarly raspberries. That Orwell has a hard time passing muster among the composition theory crowd is now a matter of record, but I had a preview of the hammering-to-come during the late 1970’s, when my college’s director of freshman writing treated the English department to an impromptu stump speech about just how pernicious, and badly written, Orwell’s essays were. I can’t remember the bill of particulars—probably because my shock and her certainty were on a collision course—but I do recall pointing out that if people couldn’t recognize the intrinsic greatness of an essay like “Politics and the English Language,” they wouldn’t know a first-rate piece of writing if it bit them on the ass.

Politics and the English Language

By george orwell, politics and the english language essay questions.

George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" presents a detailed account of the ways that English is being corroded. Does Orwell feel that this corrosion can be fixed or reversed? Analyze his ideas about function of the English language and the ways that it may or may not be manipulated.

In the opening of his essay, Orwell states that he believes that the English language is "an instrument that we can shape for our own purposes" (251). It is not a natural product that once was pure and now is contaminated. Presumably English has always been poorly used and the struggle to reverse its corruption is continuous. In 1946, the time that Orwell is writing his essay, the poor use of English was feeding into the poor thinking of particular partisan politics. In the following essay it will be argued that poor language has a similar relationship to different manifestations of partisan politics and that the struggle to resist the poor thinking that comes from poor language is the same, if not more urgent.

In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell describes a cycle in which the poor use of language leads to foolish thinking, which in turn leads to the poor use of language. Evaluate his claim about the cyclical connection between thought and speech and discuss its implications.

In the opening of his essay, Orwell states that "English becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts" (251). From this claim he proceeds with an explanation of the ways that "ugly and inaccurate" language cause foolish thinking. The essay as a whole presents a close examination of this cycle. While the cycle he describes seems all-pervasive, and seems to threaten to smother independent thinking, it is Orwell's agenda in the essay to show the ways that the process is reversible. A part of what it takes to support free independent thinking and to regenerate language is a close examination of the power of poor language and its far-reaching influence.

One of Orwell's main targets in "Politics and the English Language" is the use of elevated, pretentious and abstract language. Why does he take issue with these forms of expression? Discuss.

While Orwell goes after ugly language and presents a close examination of stale imagery and dead metaphors, his main target seems to be elevated, pretentious and abstract language. It's when he's discussing these forms of expression that specific political targets emerge, namely: apologists for Soviet socialism and conservative imperialists. He suggests that these groups make regular use of elevated terms and abstract language when they attempt to justify unjustifiable causes. As he shows, abstractions distance language from its concrete meaning, in this way becoming dishonest forms. Abstract language is a rhetorical means of blurring our violent realities, a means of disguising and thus permitting violence. This is why Orwell goes after these forms of expressions.

In the essay, Orwell says, "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." Analyze this statement. What do you make of of the adjectives he uses to describe the nature of politics?

Fierce and divisive tensions between political groups seem to be a markers of modern democratic politics. What it is that causes political groups to dig their heels in and oppose each other so relentlessly is certainly a vast and complex question. Yet the rhetorical aspect of oppositional politics no doubt plays a significant role. As Orwell discusses, the role of language has profound implications in political partisanship. The evasions that poor language permits is the source of the ugliest and most regressive aspects of politics.

Orwell's essay was written in 1946. Do you think any of its lessons still resonate in recent times? Discuss.

Along with fascism and democracy, the concept of "free speech" is one that has emerged and re-emerged to be bent and twisted to serve the political agendas of the different people who deploy it. Coming from one group, free speech seems to mean something very different than when it comes from another. This malleability is strikingly reminiscent of Orwell's discussion of terms that are rendered meaningless when used to serve the speaker's political agenda. The concept of free speech, however, is less two-dimensional than something like fascism (meaning something "bad") and democracy ("good"). In recent discourse, free speech has the power to be deployed as the "right" to refuse to recognize the "rights" of a given group's opponents.

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Politics and the English Language Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Politics and the English Language is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

Politics and English language

  • 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...

What does the author believe about the worsening status of a language

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What are the shifts in attitude or tone in the story "Legal Alien"? Where do they occur?

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Study Guide for Politics and the English Language

Politics and the English Language study guide contains a biography of George Orwell, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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Essays for Politics and the English Language

Politics and the English Language essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Politics and the English Language by George Orwell.

  • The Adaptation of Language: An Analysis of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

Lesson Plan for Politics and the English Language

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George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language'

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George Orwell published his famous essay "Politics and the English Language" in 1946, and we mostly wish he hadn't.

Hosted by Emily Brewster, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.

Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.

Download the episode here .

Emily Brewster: Coming up on Word Matters, things get Orwellian in the narrowest sense of the word. I'm Emily Brewster, and Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media. On each episode, Merriam-Webster editors Ammon Shea, Peter Sokolowski, and I explore some aspect of the English language from the dictionary's vantage point. In 1946, George Orwell published his now-famous essay, "Politics and the English Language." Ammon sincerely wishes he hadn't.

Ammon Shea: One of the questions I feel like when you work in dictionaries that you often get from people, is that people always want to know what words are there that you hate, or that one hates or would banish from the language, and what words do you like. I feel like most lexicographers I know are pretty studious in trying to avoid having favorites or certainly about having dis-favorite words. But what I do have a distaste for is writings about words. My least favorite words are just peeves about language. I have to say perhaps foremost among my personal peeves is a piece of writing that is beloved by many. I like to think this is not just my contrarian nature that makes it so despised by me. It's that I think it's a bad piece of writing. I am speaking, of course, of George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Have you two feelings on this?

Peter Sokolowski: I've only just read it recently. It's one of those things that is referred to so frequently. I'm embarrassed to say, I don't think I ever studied it in school, so I took some of it kind of secondhand, for granted, the way lots of intellectual movements, someone didn't have to study Derrida to know what deconstruction is or to at least know that word is used often by other people. So I often took this to be a reference to the idea that politicians use words in a deliberately manipulative way. So I took it not as a linguistic document at all, but as a more philosophical or a political idea. I usually saw it in the context of names of political parties or movements or laws, something like the Clean Air Act, which I think was criticized for also helping fossil fuels. So people said, "Well, that's Orwellian," because you call it one thing but you really mean something else. So I interpreted it in that very filtered way through the culture.

Emily Brewster: I think I read it about five years after I read ) Animal Farm , so Animal Farm , eighth grade; freshman year of college maybe, "Politics and the English Language." I think I loved them both and believed them both completely. Thought they were just both absolutely brilliant. I didn't actually read this 1946 essay again until last night. I see some problems with Orwell's assertions at this stage, but I can also defend some of them, so.

Ammon Shea: Okay, great. What is this if not an argument. As you pointed out, it was published in 1946. It came out in the journal, "Horizon." When we talk about this particular essay, it is always important to note, and right at the beginning, that Orwell himself is claiming that he's not speaking about language in general. He's talking about political language, the language used by politicians. He specifically says, "I have not here been considering the literary use of language." If we're generous, we can give him that, but I think it's kind of a dodge because I feel like he does kind of broaden his scope. But also I feel like one of the things that has happened with this particular essay is that it is used as kind of a club by many people today in talking about language, and it is almost never used in the context of political language. People just talk out Orwell's views on English, and they don't say, "This is what Orwell had to say about politicians using the language. It's just used as a kind of general thing."

Ammon Shea: To me, one of the main problems is that Orwell seems to have very little idea of how language in general and English in particular actually works. It almost is farcically bad. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking, "Oh, this must be great. He's laying down these rules." We all love rules. We want rules about language. We want language to make sense. It feels very comforting to think that these are concrete steps that I can take to make my language use better, but they're not true. To say that the messenger is flawed is really being over-kind.

Emily Brewster: What does he say that's not true?

Ammon Shea: Well, he has a lot of things about, "Use short words. Never use a long word where a short word will do," which is this longstanding bugaboo with many people. Before Fowler wrote Modern English Usage , his famous book in 1926, he wrote a book with his brother, The King's English . They said you should always prefer the Saxon word to the Romance. E.B. White in The Elements of Style actually wrote, "Anglo-Saxon is a livelier tongue than Latin so use Anglo-Saxon words." Winston Churchill is quoted, whether he said it or not, as saying, "Short words are best, and the old words, when short are best of all." We've long had this feeling that you should go with the short Anglo-Saxon words rather than these fancy, flowery, long Latin words, which to me is just kind of a silly thing to say. I like long words, and when long words are appropriate, they're totally fine. So I think saying, "Never use a long word when a short one will do," is a little bit awkward considering that Orwell uses plenty of long words.

Emily Brewster: I'm looking at the essay. In the second paragraph he uses the word slovenliness . There's some significant letters in there.

Ammon Shea: What he's very good at doing, though, is breaking his own rule in the same sentence that he gives it. In this particular essay, he says, "There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly to be got rid of." This is the section where he says, "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." Fly-blown is, of course, a metaphor. Unless the actual words here have the larva of flies growing out of them, they are not actually a fly-blown metaphor. They're metaphorical metaphors that he's talking about. The essay also has plenty of similes: "like cavalry horses answering the bugle," "a mass of Latin words," "falls upon the facts like soft snow." He talks about like a cuttlefish spreading out ink. He uses these similes and metaphors liberally. So it's kind of odd to me that he exhorts us to not use them. I think perhaps his most egregious mistake is when he says, "Never use the passive voice where you can use the active."

Emily Brewster: Except, Ammon, he doesn't say it like that. This stuck out to me also. He says-

Ammon Shea: It's the very first sentence. "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way," and then he says, "it is generally assumed," passive voice here, "that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it." He's using the passive voice to tell you not to use the passive voice. So either he doesn't believe his own advice, or he doesn't understand it.

Emily Brewster: Then later in the same essay, he says, "In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active." That itself is in the passive voice. "The passive voice is used," not "writers used the passive voice." Just to refresh people, if you wanted to say "the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active," you would say "writers use the passive voice wherever possible, rather than preferring the active voice." So he is actively doing the things he says writers should not do in his own writing over and over again.

Ammon Shea: He does it in almost all cases. In fact, some people connected with language have found fault with this essay over the years. My favorite was, some while ago, some people went through and actually counted the number of instances in which he used the passive rather than the active voice and found that he was about twice as much as your average college essay at the time. He's using it in 20% of the cases as opposed to 10% of the time when people usually use it in this setting.

Emily Brewster: Wow.

Ammon Shea: He says, "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent." He gives a list of phrases to avoid: deus ex machina , mutatis mutandis , status quo , ancien régime . If you go through any of his writing, he uses most of these in his other writings. He doesn't actually use them in this essay. So this is one that he's not okay with, but he does use them regularly. Overall, my favorite is his sixth rule, which is "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." I like this so much because it is the one rule that he actually adheres to in his own writing. He breaks all of his own rules so much that it raises the question of why he thought that this should happened in the first place.

Peter Sokolowski: To me, it's the first sentence of the second paragraph that caught my eye because he identifies himself as being a member of a kind of club and invites us to join that club. He says, "Now it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes." Now, first of all, I don't think that's clear at all. Second of all, he's announcing himself as declinist, that "kids today" basically is what he's saying and that "everything must be worse today because I remember when it was better." That is basically the same exact argument we hear all the time. It's the exact same argument that was put against Webster's Third . It's declinism. It's that everything is going to pot and everything is terrible. The weird thing about Orwell is that he makes the same mistake that everyone with a declinist argument makes, which is that he expects language to provide logic. That's just not how writing works. He insists that the decadent culture has produced a collapse of language and that that collapsed language then perpetuates this decline, which is an intellectual race to the bottom, which was exactly the argument against Webster's Third , blaming the dictionary for a perceived drop in quality of standardized test results or something. But the difference is he often seems to be blaming the words rather than the writing.

Ammon Shea: I think he does blame the words rather than writing. He also thinks that if we all just steel ourselves, we can change this. We can stem the flow of bad language by just being conscious of the words that we use. We're going to set a good example. There's a great point in this where he talks about how "the jeers of a few journalists" have done away with a number of phrases that he doesn't like, like "explore every avenue" and "leave no stone unturned." I think he's really overstating the effect that jeers of a few journalists can have on the language use of hundreds of millions of people. If you look at "explore every avenue" and "leave no stone unturned," in the decades following the 1940s, they actually increased dramatically. They're not going away. If they did go away, it wouldn't be because a few journalists like George Orwell jeered at them. It would be because people just stopped using these phrases.

Emily Brewster: You're listening to Word Matters. I'm Emily Brewster. We'll be right back with more on Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media.

Peter Sokolowski: Word Matters listeners get 25% off all dictionaries and books at shop.merriam-webster.com by using the promo code "matters" at checkout. That's "matters," M-A-T-T-E-R-S at shop.merriam-webster.com.

Ammon Shea: I'm Ammon Shea. Do you have a question about the origin, history, or meaning of a word? Email us at [email protected].

Peter Sokolowski: I'm Peter Sokolowski. Join me every day for the Word of the Day, a brief look at the history and definition of one word, available at merriam-webster.com or wherever you get your podcasts. For more podcasts from New England Public Media, visit the NEPM podcast hub at nepm.org.

Emily Brewster: The conversation about George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" continues. I do think, though, that the writing that he objects to, and he starts out by giving five examples I think, it is bad writing. He is pointing out that there are real problems. Here is his first example, which I found just mind-numbing. It was by Professor Harold Lasky. The example says, "I am not indeed sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a 17th century Shelley had not become out of an experience ever more bitter in each year more alien to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate." I'm really good at reading opaque text, and this is really, really hard to follow.

Ammon Shea: I agree with you, absolutely. But I would point out that almost nothing in that would be fixed by any of the rules in Orwell's essay. He's using lots of short Saxon words in that piece. He's not using any metaphors or similes that I can see of. He's not using foreign expressions or phrases. I agree. That is a horrible piece of writing. I would not myself enjoy reading writing like that. Anyway, I'm with Orwell when he says that there is some bad writing out there, when he says there's bad political writing. Absolutely. But I feel that what he's kind of saying is let's make it better. Sure, I agree with that. That's where my agreement ends.

Emily Brewster: You agree with none of his advice?

Ammon Shea: I kind of agree with some of it a little bit. If it's possible to cut a word out, always cut it out? No, I don't agree with that. I think that's just a stylistic difference. I think if you look at writing in the 19th century, it's different than writing in the 20th century. It's just stylistically changed. I don't think that one is better for length than the other, or one is better for its brevity than the other.

Emily Brewster: I also have a problem with these kind of absolute statements: never use the passive voice, always use the fewest words possible. I think any kinds of absolutes are problematic. To always avoid any particular thing in writing is unhelpfully narrowing.

Ammon Shea: A great example of this kind of absolutism gone wrong is, we're all familiar with the "never end a sentence with a preposition." Of course, that's a meaningless thing. We end sentences with a preposition all the time. A lot of times the sentence construction demands ending a sentence with a preposition. Terminal prepositions are fine even though we've been hearing for hundreds of years that they're not. Every once in a while, somebody will come up with a variant on that. I used to occasionally see the rule in old uses books, "never end a sentence with a preposition or some other less meaningful word or insignificant word," I think was the way that they used to phrase it.

Ammon Shea: We're starting to make a little more sense if you don't want to end a sentence with a little blip, if you don't want to end your sentence with "of." Now, I don't think of prepositions as less meaningful or less significant personally, but that's just me. But I could see if somebody had the exhortation to end your sentence on an emphatic, meaningful, significant word, it's fine with me. I like that as a general rule of advice. But when you turn that into "Don't end it with a word that's less meaningful or significant," and that somehow becomes "Don't end it with a preposition or don't end it with this kind of thing," that's the kind of absolutism that just doesn't carry water.

Emily Brewster: This makes me think about the motivation for writing an essay such as this and the motivation for sharing an essay like this. This essay was written a long time ago now, in 1946. It is still something that people are talking about and are using in the aid of their own writing, and to try to get other people to be better writers. There is a desire among users of the English language to do that better, to become a better writer, and clearly Orwell thought that he had some important things as a skilled writer. This man was clearly a skilled writer of the English language. He published books. He knew how to use the English language. He was an expert in language use as much as anyone else who writes so many books or spend so much time using language. Any native speaker is actually also an expert. But he had a very specific kind of expertise, and he wanted to share this expertise with people. But he generalized his own expertise in a way that, as you point out, Ammon, was not even an accurate assessment of his own use. Why did he do that? What was he thinking?

Ammon Shea: I don't know why Orwell would write this. The lack of introspection here is stunning to me in that it comes up again and again and again. In the section on "Never use a long word where a short word one will do," he almost immediately says, "A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has got..." This phraseology? That's a pretty damn long word there. I'm sure I could cut phraseology down by at least two or three syllables. Shorter than phraseology? I don't know why he was so lacking in introspection about his own writing.

Ammon Shea: I do think I know why people are still so adamant in sharing this because I think people just want tools. They want to reduce this glorious mess that is English to a series of concrete steps that you can take to make it definably better. Should I use a long word? Never. How about, should I use this simile that I know? Never. These are things that you can say to yourself. When should I use a simile that I'm used to seeing in print? You should never a simile. No, I'm going to never use a simile, and my writing will therefore be better. But I don't think that language responds well to this kind of absolutism. It gives us a sense of comfort. It must be better because I'm following these rules that were set down in the journal, Horizon, and that our results will be better. I don't think that's the way that it works.

Peter Sokolowski: He's completely ignorant on matters of the scientific study of language, on what we would call linguistics. He's not a linguist, but he's a good writer. That is the problem here, which is that so many people and especially declinists or language change deniers, people who say "kids today," they often want language to be like math. They want it to be logical, and they want to find a formula. I think what this all points to for me is that good prose style is much more art than science, and it requires, dare I say it, humanities exposure, the kind of general exposure to good writing and lots of it that you can only get if you read a lot. That's really the club to join. Join the readers who then can identify, "Oh, yes. That is a nicely turned phrase."

Peter Sokolowski: The fact is Orwell writes this in 1946, and he has nothing but contempt and scorn for all political discourse. Yet, he's within a couple of years of Churchill saying, "We shall meet them on the beaches. We shall meet them on the landing grounds." He's within a couple of years of FDR saying, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Some of the greatest political utterances in the history of the language were made just a couple of years before this essay was written. So he's kind of deliberately putting his thumb on the scale, which is what a lot of essayists do. He's got the right reflex but the wrong tools. He's not equipped to help others write. All he really is doing is listing his peeves.

Emily Brewster: But Peter, of those examples that you cite, Churchill and FDR, I think Orwell would have given the thumbs up to. He would've said, "Yes, these are good examples."

Ammon Shea: But those are following his rules. There is something to be said for that. Those are well written, and I think they're very effective particularly as political discourse. Again, if we're going to be kind to Orwell we can say that, yes, a lot of what he's saying will apply to the current political language that was being used.

Ammon Shea: Something that Peter said a few minutes ago, and I'm going to disagree with that, which is that you said, "People want language to be like math." I think in some ways they do, but actually I think people want language to be like religion more than they want it to be like math. There's a comfort that people get from certain religious structures that some other people try to get from certain linguistic structures, that there are things which are done by the righteous, and there are things that are done by the unrighteous in a way. And that a lack of adherence to this set of structure betokens a lack of moral fiber in a way because we make these value judgments of people based on their language use which have nothing to do with anything a lot of the time. It's not a one-to-one comparison between religion and language, but I am often reminded of religious fervor when I hear the way that certain people talk about how language use should be.

Peter Sokolowski: A big part of the conversations that we've all had with members of the public or strangers, people who correspond with a dictionary in one way or another, is some kind of membership of a club. "You care about language in the way that I do." There is absolutely a huge moral component that is imposed upon that. We always are judging others by their use of language. We are always judged by our use of language, by the way we spell, by the way we pronounce words. That's just a simple human fact. It's easier for us as professionals to separate that from culture.

Peter Sokolowski: So what you just said, Ammon, which is so true, which is that these things have nothing to do with drawing moral conclusions, whether you end a sentence with a preposition or whether you don't put an apostrophe in "you're." Yet, it becomes a shorthand for the kind of person that I want to know or the kind of person that I grew up with or the kind of person my parents raised me to be. That's very extra-linguistic, isn't it? That's why I think, Ammon, your analysis is brilliant. That takes you into something like religion, like culture, that goes way beyond what a language can do, but we extrapolate so much from it.

Emily Brewster: Language does indeed do that. It is one of the things that a language does, the different ways that language are used. It generates these in-groups and out-groups. But I think it is really important to reflect back on that and to recognize that good grammar does not mean ethical. You can have by-the-book grammar and never conjugate a verb incorrectly and be a horribly unethical person. That is wholly possible.

Peter Sokolowski: Exactly.

Ammon Shea: If we go back to Orwell, I don't want to be too harsh in my assessment of him, though I don't think he had any business writing about language, but this was just an essay that he wrote. I think the real problem here was that it's been then kept alive by other people who are trying to turn it into something that it's not and that it's not equipped to handle. I think insofar as these kinds of exhortatory writing advice pieces go, I'm willing to go as far as "you should write better; you should consider your language; you should write carefully." I think these are all fine things to say. I start to shut down when I see the linguistic absolutism: "never do this," and "never do that." There are very few cases that I can think of in which you should never do something. I'm not going to say you should never, of course, because that would contraindicate myself. But there are very few cases in which I would feel comfortable saying, "Never do this."

Peter Sokolowski: If you remove politics from this essay, I find it hard to distinguish it from Strunk & White, another famous book that also offers advice that is poorly constructed from a linguistics point of view.

Ammon Shea: I think there are a lot of problems with Strunk & White, but I feel that Strunk & White is actually more forgiving than this. I mean, Strunk & White, I don't think they say things like, "Never start a sentence with 'and' and 'but.'" They actually have some flexibility, not much. I think Strunk & White is a horrible, dated document that should be burned in a trash heap. It's not as bad as this.

Peter Sokolowski: I can't help but quote our friend Geoffrey Pullum, the great grammarian who refers to Strunk & White as "a toxic little compendium of nonsense."

Ammon Shea: Yes.

Emily Brewster: Yes, and "grammarian," as in a linguist.

Peter Sokolowski: A linguist and professor of grammar and author of maybe the definitive grammar of the English language today but also someone who has a great flare.

Emily Brewster: Yeah, that's a fantastic quote. The reason that this essay, of course, has been promulgated and is the reason we are talking about it today is because people are still talking about it, because people still want guidance on how to write better. I am wondering, Ammon, as a writer, how do you think people should learn to write better? Putting aside, for a minute, the writers who think that they have all this advice to offer to the rest of us, how should people who want to improve their writing do so?

Ammon Shea: Read more. Read writers you like is the way to go about it. For me, one of the main issues with a lot of the standard writing books is even writers that we enjoy, like many people enjoy Stephen King, I think he has some fine characteristics in his writing. When he starts giving writing advice, he had this great passage where he talked about all the times you shouldn't use adverbs. People went through and found dozens and dozens of adverbs in the page that he was talking about, "you shouldn't use adverbs in your writing." It quickly became apparent that he didn't really know what an adverb was in a lot of cases. That kind of writing advice, I think, doesn't work.

Ammon Shea: Now, I know a number of other writers who have read Stephen King and talked about the way that they've been influenced by his writing, the ways that he develops plot, maybe his character development, any number of things, which he does phenomenally well. I think that's a great way to learn writing. If for nothing else, one of my biggest peeves about this kind of language writing is that almost inevitably it is focusing on the negative. Why when we hear people say, "Oh, I care about language," why is that so often synonymous with saying, "I like to talk trash about the way that other people use language"? Why, when people say, "I care about language and let me share with you some of the things that I think are really beautiful about it. These are some fine examples of well-turned phrases," why is that so infrequently something that we come across?

Ammon Shea: I think if you care about language, if you love language, you should be embracing the kind of delectability of it, the fine use of language. Look at some of the nice ones. There's so much beautiful language around us that I think we're really doing ourselves a disservice, not to mention the people who have to listen to us, but doing them a much greater disservice if all we do is focus on the negative.

Emily Brewster: That's totally true. But it's easier to point out the ugliness than it is to quote the sublime. There is gorgeous writing out there that can just be staggering. I think the other thing is that if you want to improve your writing, it's really nice to think that there are some distinct steps that you can take that will then result in you being an improved writer. That's really comforting and much simpler than read, read, read, read, read, read good writers, read over and over and over again, and identify things you really like, and then read something aloud that you have written and see how it feels.

Emily Brewster: Writing well is not about following distinct steps. It's about getting a feel for it. It is an art form. But the really tricky thing about it is that we all use language. Painters have paint as their territory. That's their medium. I don't even have to dabble in it. I mean I paint my bathroom, whatever. I don't have mastery, and I don't think that I have mastery of paint at all, and I don't need to. But as a speaker of English and as somebody who has to write an occasional email or whatever, even if I weren't a lexicographer, all of us, as native speakers, we use this tool, and then some people use it professionally. It's a very tricky territory. Some people use it artistically, and some people use it solely for jargon, and some people use it for political purposes. We need the language to do so much, and it does do all these different things.

Emily Brewster: To get really good at writing creatively or writing in a way that moves people or that convinces people, it feels like it should be simple because you know the tools, you know the words, you know the prepositions, you know the basic sentence structure. But to actually do it in a way that is compelling takes a lot of practice.

Emily Brewster: Let us know what you think about Word Matters. Review us wherever you get your podcasts or email us at [email protected]. You can also visit us at nepm.org. For the Word of the Day and all your general and dictionary needs, visit merriam-webster.com. Our theme music is by Tobias Voigt, artwork by Annie Jacobson. Word Matters is produced by John Voci. For Ammon Shea and Peter Sokolowski, I'm Emily Brewster. Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media.

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Guest Essay

Why Is the Supreme Court Making an Easy Case Related to Jan. 6 Rioters Hard?

An illustration of people marching in Washington. In the center, a huge hand with palm open emerges from a judge’s robes, apparently signaling the marchers to stop.

By Randall D. Eliason

Mr. Eliason is a former chief of the fraud and public corruption section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Imagine that during a Supreme Court argument, protesters angry about the case storm the court building. The mob breaks doors and windows and assaults security officers while forcing its way into the chamber. Some shout that they want to hang the chief justice. The justices and attorneys are forced to flee for their lives. It’s several hours before law enforcement secures the building and the argument can resume.

Has the court proceeding been obstructed or impeded? That doesn’t seem like a difficult question. But that’s essentially what the Supreme Court heard debated in arguments last week in Fischer v. United States , a case challenging a law being used to prosecute hundreds of people, including Donald Trump, for the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Joseph Fischer is charged with being part of the mob that rioted at the Capitol, forcing members of Congress to flee and disrupting the electoral vote count. Along with assaulting police officers and other charges, he is charged under 18 U.S.C. 1512(c), which provides:

(c) Whoever corruptly — (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

Prosecutors charge that by participating in the Capitol riot, Mr. Fischer corruptly obstructed and impeded the joint congressional proceeding to certify the election, in violation of 1512(c)(2). More than 300 other Jan. 6 rioters have faced the same charge. In the D.C. federal indictment of Mr. Trump, two of the four counts also rely on this statute, alleging that through his actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, he conspired to and did obstruct the congressional proceeding.

Jan. 6 defendants have repeatedly challenged the use of 1512(c) in their prosecutions. More than a dozen federal judges in Washington have rejected those challenges. But in Mr. Fischer’s case, a Trump-appointed judge, Carl Nichols, concluded the statute must be limited to obstructive acts involving documents, records or other objects. Because Mr. Fischer wasn’t charged with impairing the availability or integrity of any physical evidence, Judge Nichols dismissed the charge.

Prosecutors appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed and reinstated the charge, with one judge — also a Trump appointee — dissenting. The Supreme Court is reviewing that decision.

The language of the statute seems clear. Subsection 1 prohibits obstructing a proceeding by tampering with physical evidence, and Subsection 2 is a catchall, backstop provision that prohibits “otherwise” obstructing a proceeding by means not encompassed by Subsection 1. Connected by the word “or,” they define alternative ways to violate the statute. You have to struggle pretty hard to find any ambiguity here.

As the majority in the D.C. Circuit held, that should be the end of the matter. In describing the D.C. Circuit dissent, Judge Florence Pan borrowed a line from an earlier Supreme Court case to say that it seemed like “elaborate efforts to avoid the most natural reading of the text.” After all, textualism — relying on the plain text of a statute and the common understanding of its terms — is the favored method of statutory interpretation today, especially among conservatives.

Despite the plain language of the law, Mr. Fischer and his supporters argue it should be limited based on the reason behind its passage. During the Enron scandal in the early 2000s, the prosecution of the accounting giant Arthur Andersen for shredding an enormous number of documents was hamstrung by weaknesses in the existing obstruction laws. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, which included section 1512(c), in response to that scandal. Mr. Fischer claims the statute must therefore be limited based on Congress’s intent to respond to crimes involving evidence impairment.

But as Justice Elena Kagan noted during oral arguments, that’s not what the statute says. As she also pointed out, Congress easily could have written the statute that way if that was what it meant.

Limiting the statute as Mr. Fischer proposes would lead to absurd outcomes. Members of a violent mob who shut down a proceeding would not be guilty of obstructing that proceeding. But if in the process they happened to damage an exhibit, the statute would apply. Filing a false affidavit in a proceeding would be covered, even if it had no effect at all; violently halting the entire proceeding would not.

There’s no reason Congress would pass a law that makes such irrational distinctions. Congress might have been motivated by document shredding during the Enron scandal, but it sensibly responded by passing a statute that bars all obstruction, not one that prohibits certain types of obstruction while condoning others.

Nevertheless, Jan. 6 defendants maintain the court must disregard the statute’s clear language based on fears about how it might be applied. They argue that if the law is not limited to evidence impairment, prosecutors might target trivial offenses or otherwise protected activities, like lobbying or peaceful protests.

Several of the conservative justices seemed sympathetic to this argument. Justice Neil Gorsuch, for example, questioned whether a sit-in that disrupts a trial or heckler at the State of the Union address would violate the law. Pointing to such supposed dangers, Fischer’s counsel, Jeffrey Green, urged the court not to unleash this sweeping new prosecutorial power.

Except it’s not new. Section 1512(c) has been on the books for more than 20 years. Another federal statute that prohibits the corrupt obstruction of congressional proceedings has been around since the 1940s. If prosecutors were itching to prosecute peaceful protesters and legitimate lobbyists for felony obstruction, they’ve had the tools for decades. And yet we haven’t seen those cases.

As Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar pointed out, that’s because “inherent constraints” built into the statute — chiefly the requirement of corrupt intent — limit its reach. It’s true there are many nonviolent and lawful ways to influence a proceeding. But only those for which prosecutors can prove corrupt intent beyond a reasonable doubt risk running afoul of the law. That’s why, as General Prelogar noted, out of more than 1,300 Capitol rioters prosecuted so far, only about one-fourth — generally the most violent, egregious offenders — have been charged under 1512(c).

Mr. Fischer also argues that Section 1512(c) has never been used in a similar case and that this proves the statute does not apply to the events of Jan. 6. But all this really demonstrates is that unprecedented crimes lead to unprecedented prosecutions. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor observed, because we’ve never had an event like Jan. 6 before, “I’m not sure what a lack of history proves.”

The use of a relevant, clearly applicable obstruction law to prosecute the unique events of Jan. 6 does not mean prosecutors will suddenly abandon the discretion and judgment they’ve used for decades when applying the law to more routine cases, any more than prosecuting Mr. Trump for those events means that criminal prosecutions of former presidents will become routine.

It would be foolish to ignore the plain language of the statute to excuse the Capitol rioters based on feared abuses that live only in the imaginations of those seeking to avoid liability.

Even if the Supreme Court agrees that 1512(c) is limited to obstruction involving evidence impairment, the charges against Mr. Trump will probably survive. Prosecutors can argue that attempting to submit slates of phony electors and efforts to have the real ballots discarded constituted evidence-based obstruction. Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson both raised that possibility during the argument, although without referring to Mr. Trump’s case.

But a ruling for Mr. Fischer would call into question the convictions, guilty pleas and prosecutions of scores of other Jan. 6 defendants. And it would provide an unjustified rallying cry for those who protest that the Justice Department has overreached when prosecuting Jan. 6 defendants.

Such a disruptive ruling is possible only if the court goes out of its way to disregard the statutory language and create ambiguity where none exists. If the Supreme Court stays true to its textualist principles, this is an easy case.

Randall D. Eliason is a former chief of the fraud and public corruption section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School. He blogs at Sidebars .

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .

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  1. A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell's 'Politics and the English

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'Politics and the English Language' (1946) is one of the best-known essays by George Orwell (1903-50). As its title suggests, Orwell identifies a link between the (degraded) English language of his time and the degraded political situation: Orwell sees modern discourse (especially political discourse) as being less a matter…

  2. Politics and the English Language

    Politics and the English Language. This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the US, and is reproduced here with the permission of the Orwell Estate.If you value these resources, please consider making a donation or joining us as a Friend to help maintain them for readers everywhere.. Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English ...

  3. Politics and the English Language

    "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell that criticised the "ugly and inaccurate" written English of his time and examined the connection between political orthodoxies and the debasement of language. The essay focused on political language, which, according to Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and ...

  4. Politics and the English Language Summary

    Politics and the English Language. George Orwell 's central argument is that the normalization of bad writing leads to political oppression. Orwell starts with the premise that the distortion of "language" reflects a "corruption" of "civilization.". But Orwell objects to the conclusion he believes readers usually draw from this ...

  5. Politics and the English Language Summary

    Introduction. George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" was published in 1946 in the literary magazine Horizon.Though modern considerations of Orwell more often focus on his ...

  6. Politics and the English Language

    First, that the English language is regularly misused and abused. Second, that the downfall of the English language mirrors the "decadence" (or moral denigration spurred by excessiveness) of English-speaking "civilization.". With both of these first two points, Orwell agrees: the decline of writing and politics go hand-and-hand.

  7. Politics and the English Language Study Guide

    Orwell penned "Politics and the English Language" in 1945 during the final year of World War II. His essay makes several references to the aftermath of World War II and at one point notes the "continuance of British rule in India.". During the time Orwell was writing this essay, the British still exerted power over India and exploited ...

  8. PDF Politics and the English Language

    Politics and the English Language. George Orwell { 1946. 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 ...

  9. Politics and the English Language Summary

    George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language," begins by refuting common presumptions that hold that the decline of the English language is a reflection of the state of society and politics, that this degeneration is inevitable, and that it's hopeless to resist it.This disempowering idea, he says, derives from an understanding of language as a "natural growth" rather ...

  10. "Politics and the English Language." By George Orwell

    Orwell dramatizes this assertion in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published three years after "Politics and the English Language," the iconic dystopic novel imagines a futuristic government that manipulates language so that its citizens conform in thought, word, and deed to a narrow political orthodoxy. Language, in fact, is the primary change ...

  11. Writing, Ideology, and Politics: Orwell's 'Politics and the English

    With these ideas in mind, I will offer a reading of George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language,"2 and will then use my reading to develop a more general argument about compositional pedagogy and the nature of writing itself. If success is measured by academic attention, Orwell's essay must be one of ...

  12. Politics and the English Language

    'Politics and the English Language' is widely considered Orwell's most important essay on style. Style, for Orwell, was never simply a question of aesthetics; it was always inextricably linked to politics and to truth.'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 ...

  13. Politics and the English Language Summary

    George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is a critique of the conventions of written English in the modernist and post-World War II era, focusing specifically on the correlation between political correctness and intellectual and linguistic poverty. Orwell lambasts people who use language as a tool to obfuscate, rather ...

  14. Politics and the English Language

    George Orwell set out 'to make political writing into an art', and to a wide extent this aim shaped the future of English literature - his descriptions of authoritarian regimes helped to form a new vocabulary that is fundamental to understanding totalitarianism. While 1984 and Animal Farm are amongst the most popular classic novels in the English language, this new series of Orwell's ...

  15. Politics And The English Language

    Politics And The English Language Bookreader Item Preview ... Original publication of George Orwells essay "Politics and the English Language" from the April 1946 issue of the journal Horizon (volume 13, issue 76, pages 252-265). Addeddate 2015-03-23 04:47:41 Identifier ...

  16. Politics and the English Language Themes

    The Danger of Intellectual Laziness. In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell 's central point is that bad writing produces bad politics. According to Orwell, a culture full of lazily written nonsense enables governments to control citizens through deceptive messaging. This is because lazy writing leads to lazy ...

  17. Politics and the English Language: Analysis of George Orwell's Essay

    This is very common in the political language. This study focuses on the works of George Orwell about the use and misuse of the language titled "Politics and the English Language." George Orwell has carefully analyzed the use of English language both it its written and spoken form.

  18. Writers on Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

    June 23, 2017. If you've ever thought of yourself as a writer, chances are that you have opinions about George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language.". First published in 1946, it has since become required reading for intro-level writing classes, as well as an obligatory citation when discussing politics and rhetoric.

  19. Politics and the English Language Essay Questions

    In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell describes a cycle in which the poor use of language leads to foolish thinking, which in turn leads to the poor use of language. Evaluate his claim about the cyclical connection between thought and speech and discuss its implications. In the opening of his essay, Orwell states that "English becomes ...

  20. George Orwell

    Essay. 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.

  21. George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language'

    Word Matters, episode 85. George Orwell published his famous essay "Politics and the English Language" in 1946, and we mostly wish he hadn't. Hosted by Emily Brewster, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski. Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media. Download the episode here.

  22. PDF of George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946

    To print or download this file, click the link below: Orwell_ Politics and the English Language.pdf — PDF document, 201 KB (206504 bytes)

  23. PDF Politics and the English Language

    Politics and the English Language. George Orwell. Politics and the English Language. 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− ...

  24. Opinion

    Mr. Eliason is a former chief of the fraud and public corruption section at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. Imagine that during a Supreme Court argument, protesters ...