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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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How does Orwell connect politics and English language?

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In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell attacks bad writing in general. He gives examples of passages that contain stale imagery, muddled thinking, and pretentious diction, complaining that such writing is generally confusing and boring to read. This is true regardless of the subject, but Orwell points out that these general faults of style are particularly consequential in the case of political writing. This is because political writing is "largely the defence of the indefensible."

Orwell remarks that if one were to describe British imperialism in India, the Russian purges, or the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki using simple English that anyone could grasp, the murderous cruelty of the most powerful countries in the world would immediately become apparent. Political writing is vague and boring because it is intended to hide atrocities and prevent anyone from thinking too deeply about what is happening. He gives examples of some euphemisms that have become common currency:

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Orwell, therefore, invites his readers to notice the intellectual dishonesty that lies behind the bland phrases of political writing and also to be as precise as possible in their own writing, not only for the sake of style, but to preserve their integrity.

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