Politics and the English Language Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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According to Orwell in his essay "Politics and the English Language," why do people use hackneyed imagery and prefabricated phrases?

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In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell laments that written English, especially with regard to political discourse, is littered with bad habits that impact both written expression and thought. He further explains that these habits spread from writer to writer by repetition and imitation.

One of the bad habits Orwell decries is that:

[N]o one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse…

Orwell explains that, in his analysis, writers use such set phrases because it is easier and quicker to use them than to choose appropriate words to convey the writers' intended meaning. Further, the use of prefabricated phrases allows writers to exercise less thought in coming to their conclusions, which therefore results in less thought being expressed in their writing.

Thus, according to Orwell, hackneyed imagery and prefabricated phrases represent a shortcut, both in writing and in thinking. Such devices do not serve to illuminate and convey novel ideas, which Orwell claims is the purpose of written discourse; rather, these shortcuts allow the writer to, with minimal actual thought, build on already existing messages.

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