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 than an “instrument which we shape for our own purposes” (251). As an instrument, language can be manipulated for various purposes. As Orwell will show, language can also manipulate those who use it unconsciously.
He presents a list of corrupting habits that cause writers to think poorly and thus write poorly. The list includes unoriginal or mixed metaphors, pretentious diction, and abstract or meaningless language. When a person becomes lazy they allow their language to think for them. In this way, political writers end up following a party line. By using set phrases, they pantomime ideology without thinking. Independent thinking is necessary for a healthy political life.
As corrupted language smothers independent, original thinking, it thus serves a political purpose. Orwell demonstrates the deceptive effect of various political terms, showing how elevated, complex and abstract language actively disguises ugly and violent concrete realities. In this way, abstract language becomes a means for political writers to “justify unjustifiables.” He presents a list of tools that can be used to resist dishonest language.
Orwell sees the use of honest language as political act in itself, a form of resistance against insidious and widespread manipulations of rhetorical structures. He says that in an atmosphere of “terrible politics” (such as the period in which he’s writing), corrupted language is almost inevitable. But this doesn’t make the resistance against it futile. He returns to the claim that he opens with: that language is a tool, and not a natural evolutionary growth. It’s thus possible to manipulate that tool. It does however, take diligent, conscious effort on the part of the political writer or speaker. Orwell thinks that mindless and actively deceptive language can be identified and resisted through ridicule, and, most of all, through a diligent commitment to honest representation.
Politics and the English Language Essay
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George Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, first published in 1946, talks about some “bad habits”, which have driven the English language in the wrong direction, that is, away from communicating ideas. In his essay he quotes five passages, each from a different author, which embody the faults he is talking about. He lists dying metaphors, operators, pretentious diction, and meaningless words as things to look out for in your own writing and the writing of others (593-595). He talks about political uses of the English language. Our language has become ugly and the ugliness impedes upon communication. Ugly uses of language have been reinforced and passed down in the population “even among people who should and do know…show more content…
On the other hand, writing can turn ugly if they don’t care about what words they use and rush through the writing process. The idea is that ugly writing impedes communication whereas positive writing allows for clear communication. Positive writing serves the purpose of communicating clearly and concisely. It allows for the flow of imagery from the writer to the reader. In contrast, ugly writing does something else. It can be crowded with meaningless phrases and fillers. People need to prevent bad habits from spreading by consciously guarding against them.
As ugly language is used in society, by written word or mouth, it can spread through the population like a virus. Ugly writing is only ugly in the sense that communication is hindered to some extent. I’m not trying to say that the ideas behind the writing are negative or bad, although they certainly can be. The intensity to which communication is hindered varies and can be negative for the reader’s understanding. There are many ways in which writers hinder communication.
In his essay, Orwell gives examples of commonly used language which doesn’t help aid communication. The first are dying metaphors (593). A good metaphor creates a picture in your head. The graphic novel Watchmen, written by Alan Moore, starts off with a vivid metaphor about the horrendous amount of crime in a dying city; “The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains