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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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What does "pretentious diction" mean?

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In "Politics and the English Language," "pretentions diction" means overly complicated or scientific phrasing. According to Orwell, this often convolutes meaning and leaves readers confused. Orwell believes that this is often intentional, as writers bury the truth in phrasing that is difficult to understand.

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Orwell instructs writers to avoid "pretentious diction ." In short, he believes that writers who use overly complicated or scientific phrasing convolute meaning and leave readers confused. Instead of filling verbal space with words intended to impress readers, Orwell insists that writers should carefully choose simple yet powerful phrasing that...

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clearly conveys meaning. This encourages writers to assess the clarity of their own line of reasoning without clouding meaning with nonsensical phrasing.

Orwell believes that sometimes writers use pretentious diction intentionally, hoping to bury the truth in phrasing that readers won't be able to follow with a concrete understanding. He points to words like categorical, constitute, exploit, and liquidate, which are often used to "give an aire of scientific impartiality to biased judgments." He also points to the usage of "foreign words" such as ancien regime, mutatis mutandis, and weltanschauung as words writers employ to "give an aire of culture and elegance."

Orwell insists that such pretentious words are not needed to clearly express ideas. He is particularly scornful of "bad writers" in the fields of science, politics, and sociology who believe that flooding their writing with Latin and Greek words will create a "grander" effect. These writers thus use words such as extraneous, clandestine, and ameliorate, hoping to impress readers through a presumptuous reliance on words with Latin and Greek origins.

Orwell thus urges writers to "make pretentiousness unfashionable." By doing so, writers will avoid "concealing or preventing thought" by employing language "as an instrument for expressing" clear ideas.

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