In a brief summary, George Orwell's objective in "Politics in the English Language " is twofold. First, he intends to illustrate and prove that the academic and political English language of his day was "in a bad way." His contention is that meaning was being either intentionally or...
In a brief summary, George Orwell's objective in "Politics in the English Language" is twofold. First, he intends to illustrate and prove that the academic and political English language of his day was "in a bad way." His contention is that meaning was being either intentionally or inadvertently obscured. In the case of politics, the obscuring of meaning was intentional. In academia, it was seemingly inadvertent.
One of his central points of persuasion to gain credibility for his argument is that cause produces effects that themselves also become cause of similar effects. This is relevant to a discussion of language because of the theory that language is beyond control and that things just happen to language along the way.
Orwell's major concern, as reflected by his title, is how this obscuring of meaning is used in political situations. A precise example of his concern and point regarding what he describes as "The inflated style [that] itself is a kind of euphemism" is as follows:
Orwell: Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."
Orwell offers concrete steps for avoiding inflated stylistic euphemisms. The first and most important is to visualize your meaning until you have it clearly in your mind and then select words that best describe what you visualize. He gives a list of rules to use to help steer away from the vague and euphemistic toward the specific and concrete, which is a path illustrated by his paraphrase that follows:
Orwell: Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Orwell: Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
Orwell's rules for clarity are:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.