What examples of dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and meaningless words can be found in "Letter from Birmingham Jail"?
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In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell contends that language should be an instrument for expressing and not for concealing thought. Certain "mental vices" are mentioned by Orwell as conducive to such cloaking of clear thought. These are
- dying metaphors, unstated comparisons that are used as a mere short-cut to creating fresh phrases.
- operators or verbal false limbs, which Orwell defines as phrases that "pad" sentences with extra syllables, providing an appearance of symmetry and phrases used in place of simple verbs or single nouns.
- pretentious diction, which are words used to "dress-up" a simple statement, giving the appearance of erudition or scientific impartiality instead of the actual biased judgment.
- meaningless words, or words that do not "point to any discoverable object." Orwell cites words such as romantic, values, democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice as such words since they have been used and misused by so many. Meaningless words are those that have variable meanings, thus giving them no concrete meaning. They are also read-made phrases that have become trite.
It can be argued that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" contains some of the "mental vices" that Orwell explicates. Here are a few examples:
1.dying metaphors "solid rock" in paragraph 25, "creative outlet" in paragraph 29, "shattered dreams" in paragraph 34, "clarion call" in paragraph 36.
2. operators or verbal false limbs - In paragraph 6 there is the phrase "gainsaying the fact" that is used instead of a simple verb. Another example is "sanctimonious trivialities" in paragraph 35.
3. pretentious diction comes in a phrase such as "inescapable network of mutuality" in paragraph 4; also in the phrase "unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal" there is pretentious diction.
4. meaningless words - King repeats the word self-purification in paragraphs 6 and 8 without any clear meaning to this word. The use of the word tension in the phrase "violent tension" does not have a succinct meaning, either. King's use of the word freedom also has an ambiguous meaning at times; he would do better to use a more specific word or phrase in its place as, for example, in his phrase of paragraph 40: "the struggle for freedom."
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