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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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In George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," a sixth "language trick" is to write by habit, stringing together "ready-made phrases." Why does Orwell condemn this approach? 

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In his essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell points out several common writing practices that lead, in his mind, not only to bad writing but also to poor and even dangerous thinking. His point is that our use of language affects the way we think. 

One of the errors Orwell points out is stringing together cliched phrases. He writes:

"As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy."

In other words, people don't choose words carefully and with a deliberate consideration of their meaning. Instead, they use well-worn phrases that they borrow from others. The attraction of this type of writing is that it is simple; however, as Orwell writes, the result is unclear writing: "By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself." If the writer uses cliched phrases, she (or he) saves herself (or himself) from the problem of thinking and deciding what she (or he) means. As Orwell expresses later in this essay, the result of using cliches is that the writer can try to obscure or hide his or her meaning and even try to defend concepts, such as warfare, that are evil or malicious in intent. Unclear writing allows the writer to express evil ideas without seeming overtly evil.

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