George Orwell makes several points in his essay “Politics and the English Language” to further his argument that words are often intentionally used to obscure the underlying meaning of a statement, particularly when it comes to politics. He notes that writers can fight the temptation to be slovenly when writing and specifically points to what he calls "dying metaphors."
He says that a new metaphor can evoke a visual image. In addition, there are metaphors that he calls "dead" because they have been in use for a long time and have therefore "in effect reverted to being" ordinary words. However, Orwell says these dead metaphors "can still evoke an image," but "worn-out metaphors" that are also old "have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”
It seems that here Orwell is taking too many liberties to make his point. He looks at newly-coined metaphors and says that they evoke an image. So far, his thinking makes sense. He then looks at the other end of the spectrum with metaphors that have been in use for as long as a writer can remember. He calls these “dead” metaphors. However, he then says that the dead metaphor can still “generally be used without loss of vividness,” but the “worn-out metaphors” that are neither new nor dead have “lost all evocative power.” People use them because they are too lazy to invent new phrases and metaphors for themselves.
Orwell is stretching a point here because there is little distinction, it seems, between what he calls dead and worn-out metaphors. Who is going to decide which metaphors are dead and which merely worn out? Is it Orwell? It is true that people often forget the origin of a metaphor that has been in use for a long time. However, the meaning of the metaphor is still recognizable, and although it might save the writer the trouble of evoking a new image, the worn-out metaphor still conjures up certain ideas for the reader that can help the writer advance an argument.
For instance, he gives “stand shoulder to shoulder with” as an example. The expression originated in the late 1500s and referred to military troops marching in close formation. While the reader and the writer equally might not know its derivation, both likely understand that it means to remain united or provide complete support to another person during a difficult time.
Orwell also points to meaningless words and notes that “In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.” This argument makes sense, as it seems that writers are often using unnecessarily long words and phrases to describe things and actually end up obscuring the underlying meaning of their message. Perhaps the writer is being pretentious.
Unfortunately, Orwell goes too far with this argument. He specifically cites “Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism,” and says they “are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.”