The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear. In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. 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 undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech.
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained 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 the 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.
A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline 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.
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. 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 flyblown 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. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. 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 around. He talks about his style being politically motivated messages delivered in a strongly aesthetic manner. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.
But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. The alternative is 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 -- concealing your meaning even from yourself.
It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear. I think the secret of Orwell's timelessness is that he doesn't seek to please or entertain; instead, he captures the reader with a style as intimate and frank as a handshake. It is that quality of common humanity that makes his essay so luminous and his voice so familiar. Orwell optimistically sets forward six simple rules to improve the state of the English language: guidelines that anyone, not just professional writers, can follow.
But I'm not going to tell you what they are. You'll have to re-read the essay yourself. By George Orwell. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, Glover, Beaird.
Literary Reference Center.
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained 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. This pig is also a messenger, an actor, a great persuasive speaker, a follower, and an outstanding liar. At the end of World War II, one form of totalitarianism -- fascism -- had been defeated; but another -- communism -- was spreading across Europe and Asia. A scrupulous writer, Orwell notes, will ask himself: What am I trying to say? The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness. 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.
On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. 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. This pig is also a messenger, an actor, a great persuasive speaker, a follower, and an outstanding liar. During these scenes Orwell is intensely descriptive, allowing the reader to visualise the setting down to the smallest detail. NPR's Ellen Silva produced and edited this series.
Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. 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. The most enduring and effective works of literature exhibit an artful combination of literary device and aforementioned technique. Orwell's proposition is that modern English, especially written English, is so corrupted by bad habits that it has become impossible to think clearly.
Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. He stopped thinking and merely felt.
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. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. The way that certain novels, novellas, or poems go about accentuating certain themes or points, whether of grand nature or of little consequence to society, is certainly achieved through a concoction of literary styles.
NPR's Ellen Silva produced and edited this series. 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. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.
And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? I do not want to exaggerate. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.