In his essay "Politics and the English Language," how does George Orwell himself use rhetorically effective similes and metaphors?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”is one of the most famous of all works urging that writing should be clear, direct, and vivid. In the course of analyzing and mocking weak similes and bad metaphors, Orwell uses various similes and metaphors of his own. His use of these devices is often rhetorically effective in a number of different ways, including the following random examples:

  • In paragraph 4, Orwell uses a simile describing “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” This simile is rhetorically effective because it is unusual (so that we instantly pay attention to it), because it creates a vivid picture, and because its tone is comic. Putting together a henhouse of any sort would not seem an especially important or impressive project; tacking together a prefabricated henhouse implies a lack of original thought as well as a final product that is weak and unsturdy.
  • In paragraph 5, while warning against dead or dying metaphors, Orwell himself uses a metaphor that is especially vivid when he refers to “a huge dump of worn-out metaphors.” Here the word “dump” implies an extremely large and disorganized pile, heaped up as if it were a gigantic collection of discarded refuse, of no importance to anyone. The metaphors are “worn-out”: they have been used so often that they lack any freshness or vitality.
  • In paragraph 12, Orwell uses the metaphor “color” when he refers to orthodoxy “of whatever color.” This metaphor implies that there is a whole spectrum of possible orthodoxies, different in shades of opinion but not in originality of language. In a sense, all the different colors are equally faded in the kinds of language they employ.
  • In paragraph 15, in an especially striking metaphor, Orwell compares tediously familiar phrases to “a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow.” This metaphor is rhetorically effective because it is strikingly unusual and because it implies (among other things) that such phrases are cheap, plentiful, near at hand, and only temporarily effective. Meanwhile, in the same paragraph a memorable simile compares tired phrases to “cavalry horses answering the bugle, [which] group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern.” Here language, which should be beautiful and full of life, seems to have become accustomed to a dull, unthinking routine.
  • Finally, in paragraph 16, Orwell uses a metaphor to wish that more people would interest themselves “in the job” of chasing dead expressions from the language. Here the metaphor implies that taking care of language is a common responsibility (almost everyone, after all, has a “job”), that doing so is not especially difficult, and that great success can be accomplished if everyone does his or her own small part of a larger common task.

Orwell argues that

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority.

He hopes that his own readers will want to become active members of this kind of effective minority group.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell writes about worn-out metaphors that have lost any sense of meaning from long overuse. Though these metaphors have lost any sense of vividness, writers use them to avoid thinking about fresh metaphors.

Orwell himself employs vivid metaphors and similes that are not cliches. For example, he writes: "A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine." In this metaphor, Orwell compares a politician who uses a series of worn-out political phrases to a machine, which is an apt, fresh, and clearly expressed metaphor. The comparison is apt because a politician who only uses these types of phrases does not think, similar to the way in which a machine is not capable of thinking. These types of metaphors are rhetorically effective because they effectively convey the author's meaning to the reader.

Later, Orwell writes about euphemisms, "A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details." This metaphor is also very vivid and fresh. Orwell compares the obscuring effect of using a euphemism to the falling of snow, which blocks one's vision. By using sensory details, Orwell clearly captures the effect of using euphemisms. Unlike the writers he criticizes, Orwell uses vivid metaphors that clearly convey their meaning to the reader.

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Politics and the English Language

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