Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Politics and the English Language,” though written in 1946, remains timely for modern students of language. In this essay, Orwell argues that the English language becomes “ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” To illustrate his point, Orwell cites writing from two professors, a Communist pamphlet, an essay on psychology in Politics, and a letter in the Tribune. All these examples, Orwell argues, have two common faults: staleness of imagery and lack of precision. In his follow-up analysis, he discusses general characteristics of bad writing, including pretentious diction and meaningless words. His purpose in the analysis is to show “the special connection between politics and the debasement of language.”
Orwell maintains that, in his time, political speech and writing are “largely the defence of the indefensible.” That is, the actions of ruthless politicians can be defended, but only by brutal arguments that “do not square with the professed aims of political parties.” He gives examples of the British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, and the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan. In order to talk about such atrocities, Orwell contends, one has to use political language that consists “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Orwell translates for his readers the real...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
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