Orwell on the crossroads of language and power

| February 11, 2013 | Reply

Terrific article at Salon revisiting the works of George Orwell. Here’s an excerpt:

The essay is an investigation of what Orwell called the “special connexion between politics and the debasement of language.” Using as his point of departure five short representative extracts from various contemporary political publications, Orwell decried a creeping invasion of the political vernacular by insidious waffle. Meaning and clarity, he complained, were giving way to hot air and opacity, contributing to a general impoverishment of British political culture. His polemic is censorious yet witty, offsetting a surly, jaded disaffection — the man, one feels, has seen too much — with a disarmingly brisk and easy turn of phrase. Politics and the English Language rails with suitably understated flair against pretentious diction, verbal false limbs, jargon, archaisms, meaningless words and journalistic clichés, culminating in a six-point checklist for avoiding bad prose:

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

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

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

Never use the passive where you can use the active.

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

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

This was about more than just style as a thing in itself. Orwell was writing in defense not of a pedantically rigid standard English, but of honesty and sincerity in politics.

This article then challenges Orwell, who suggested that cleaning up language would clean up the problem. The argument is that we now see many simply worded official pronouncements that are meaningful. Many are vapid exercises in evasion.

Share

Category: Communication, Language, Orwellian, Propaganda

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Leave a Reply


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.