What are some examples of George Orwell writing concretely in Politics and the English Language?
Politics, language, and the relationship between the two are often perplexing to people, as they find these subjects to be amorphous and difficult to grasp. Orwell attempts to alleviate this confusion in "Politics and the English Language" by anchoring his thoughts to concrete examples.
Orwell proposes that poor writing and the "abuse" or misuse of language occurs in a cycle—one impacts the other continuously. He tries to illustrate this by saying that "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks." We are becoming...
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Orwell’s essay, "Politics and the English Language," is written in clear prose. Yet, while he undoubtedly makes an effort to follow his own writing advice, Orwell did not claim to demonstrate concrete writing in this essay, but rather to describe several ways in which public writing is not concrete and therefore bad, even dangerous to the general thought and political trends of his mid-twentieth-century English society. Orwell even admits at one point late in the text that if the reader looks back over the essay, he will likely find that Orwell himself has “committed the very faults [he is] protesting against” (these include the categories of stylistic error he has set out, including dying metaphors, operators or verbal false limbs, pretentious diction, and meaningless words). But if he is guilty of some of these faults, he says this is only evidence of how insidious the “invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases” can be.
In the midst of his argument against vague writing, Orwell does give a few brief examples of language choices that are more concrete. In the modern writing he criticizes, he says a phrase like “In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that,” would more clearly be expressed as simply, “I think.” He gives contrasting versions of some phrases that governing regimes might use to disguise the horrors of war. For example, a euphemism--or misleadingly vague description--such as “elimination of unreliable elements,” would more concretely (and honestly) be expressed as “People…imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps.” Orwell would argue that these examples are concrete because they refer directly to things, people, and events in the world and avoid, for example, the overuse of latin-derived vocabulary and cliched phrases.
In addition to these examples of concrete language choices, Orwell provides his reader with a couple of lists for how to achieve clear, vivid writing. A writer should be self-reflective and aware of their word selection, asking themselves questions such as "What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?"
Orwell ends his essay with another list of guidelines toward concrete writing:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell's overall message with this essay is that by being lazy, haphazard, or vague in our use of language, we put ourselves at risk politically. When we fail to be active and purposeful in our choice of words, we are effectively allowing other people or other social forces do our thinking for us. “What is above all needed," he says, "is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.” He explains that using well-worn (and therefore imprecise and dull) words and phrases shows that a “speaker…has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine.” The logical connection Orwell is making here is one of cause and effect. The lazy use of language leads to foolish thinking. Whether we analyze Orwell's advice for using concrete language or his own use of language in his essay, I would say that in doing so we are heeding his message.