Essays On Politics And The English Language

Essays On Politics And The English Language-44
must inevitably share in the general collapse.” The examples Orwell quotes are all guilty in various ways of “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.” Ultimately, Orwell claims, bad writing results from corrupt thinking, and often attempts to make palatable corrupt acts: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His examples of colonialism, forced deportations, and bombing campaigns find ready analogues in our own time.Pay attention to how the next article, interview, or book you read uses language “favorable to political conformity” to soften terrible things.Anyone who writes in an institutional context—be it academia, journalism, or the corporate world—acquires all sorts of bad habits that must be broken with deliberate intent.

must inevitably share in the general collapse.” The examples Orwell quotes are all guilty in various ways of “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.” Ultimately, Orwell claims, bad writing results from corrupt thinking, and often attempts to make palatable corrupt acts: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His examples of colonialism, forced deportations, and bombing campaigns find ready analogues in our own time.Pay attention to how the next article, interview, or book you read uses language “favorable to political conformity” to soften terrible things.Anyone who writes in an institutional context—be it academia, journalism, or the corporate world—acquires all sorts of bad habits that must be broken with deliberate intent.

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(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.

Most everyone who knows the work of George Orwell knows his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” (published here), in which he rails against careless, confusing, and unclear prose.

“Our civilization is decadent,” he argues, “and our language…

Afterward one can choose—not simply —the phrases that will best cover the meaning.” Not only does this practice get us closer to using clear, specific, concrete language, but it results in writing that grounds our readers in the sensory world we all share to some degree, rather than the airy word of abstract thought and belief that we don’t.

These “elementary” rules do not cover “the literary use of language,” writes Orwell, “but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.” In the seventy years since his essay, the quality of English prose has likely not improved, but our ready access to writing guides of all kinds has.

Orwell’s analysis identifies several culprits that obscure meaning and lead to whole paragraphs of bombastic, empty prose: : these are the wordy, awkward constructions in place of a single, simple word.

Some examples he gives include “exhibit a tendency to,” “serve the purpose of,” "play a leading part in,” “have the effect of.” (One particular peeve of mine when I taught English composition was the phrase “due to the fact that” for the far simpler “because.”) : Orwell identifies a number of words he says “are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.” He also includes in this category “jargon peculiar to Marxist writing” (“petty bourgeois,” “lackey,” “flunkey,” “hyena”).

Those who wrote on automatic pilot, which is to say most writers then and now, never had a chance.

At its most benign, their ham-fisted efforts generated fog rather than light; at its worst, they produced the Newspeak that held up for scathing critique: “WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH and 2 2 turns out to be any number the government says it is.” Political speech and writing, Orwell insisted, were largely “the defense of the indefensible.” The result was cloudy constructions such as rather than the blunt sentence that says what it means: “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Politicians across the political spectrum knew full well that blood-thirsty utterances of this sort would be, let us say, problematic, so they learned to cover their tracks with verbal grease.

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