In his essay "Politics and the English Language," how does George Orwell himself use rhetorically effective similes and metaphors?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”is one of the most famous of all works urging that writing should be clear, direct, and vivid. In the course of analyzing and mocking weak similes and bad metaphors, Orwell uses various similes and metaphors of his own. His use of these devices is often rhetorically effective in a number of different ways, including the following random examples:

  • In paragraph 4, Orwell uses a simile describing “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” This simile is rhetorically effective because it is unusual (so that we instantly pay attention to it), because it creates a vivid picture, and because its tone is comic. Putting together a henhouse of any sort would not seem an especially important or impressive project; tacking together a prefabricated henhouse implies a lack of original thought as well as a final product that is weak and unsturdy.
  • In paragraph 5, while warning against dead or dying metaphors, Orwell himself uses a metaphor that is especially vivid when he refers to “a huge dump of worn-out metaphors.” Here the word “dump” implies an extremely large and disorganized pile, heaped up as if it were a gigantic collection of discarded refuse, of no importance to anyone. The metaphors are “worn-out”: they have been used so often that they lack any freshness or vitality.
  • In paragraph 12, Orwell uses the metaphor “color” when he refers to orthodoxy “of whatever color.” This metaphor implies that there is a whole spectrum of possible orthodoxies, different in shades of opinion but not in originality of language. In a sense, all the different colors are equally faded in the kinds of language they employ.
  • In paragraph 15, in an especially striking metaphor, Orwell compares tediously familiar phrases to “a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow.” This metaphor is rhetorically effective because it is strikingly unusual and because it implies (among other things) that such phrases are cheap, plentiful, near at hand, and only temporarily effective. Meanwhile, in the same paragraph a memorable simile compares tired phrases to “cavalry horses answering the bugle, [which] group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern.” Here language, which should be beautiful and full of life, seems to have become accustomed to a dull, unthinking routine.
  • Finally, in paragraph 16, Orwell uses a metaphor to wish that more people would interest themselves “in the job” of chasing dead expressions from the language. Here the metaphor implies that taking care of language is a common responsibility (almost everyone, after all, has a “job”), that doing so is not especially difficult, and that great success can be accomplished if everyone does his or her own small part of a larger common task.

Orwell argues that

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority.

He hopes that his own readers will want to become active members of this kind of effective minority group.


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