pencil with three dialogue bubbles above it filled with writing

Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

Start Free Trial

What common language assumption does Orwell contest?

Quick answer:

The common assumption about language that Orwell disagrees with is the idea that there is nothing we can do to improve the English language.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Orwell opens his essay "Politics and the English Language" by describing the current state of the English language. He says,

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.

He explains how most people assume there is nothing they can do to improve the English language. He also says that most people look at those who try to improve it like those who prefer candles to electric light and handsome cabs to airplanes. But Orwell disagrees with this common assumption that language is a "natural growth" or an uncontrollable force. He says that this is not true and that language is actually "an instrument which we shape for our own purposes."

By disagreeing with this assumption about the English language at the start, Orwell is then able to describe ways to improve the use of the language. If language is as he says a "tool" that we can shape, then it is possible to try new ways of using it, like the ones he suggests. He critiques the complexity of contemporary writing and uses examples from essays, speeches, and political pamphlets to demonstrate how vague (and therefore meaningless) a great deal of English writing has become.

Orwell also articulates six steps to avoid complexity and vagueness, like "Never use the passive where you can use the active" and "Never use a long word where a short one will do." He feels that if writers follow these rules, they will help reverse the concerning corruption of the English language.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial