Politics and the English Language Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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What are some examples of George Orwell writing concretely in Politics and the English Language?

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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 worse at articulating our thoughts and finding an insufficient vocabulary or lexicon to properly articulate those thoughts in the first place. This results in an "ugly" cycle of inadequate language to express inadequate thoughts.

Later in the essay , Orwell characterizes those who "abuse"...

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professorb | Student

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.

oliviak8 | Student

20th-century British writer George Orwell published his essay "Politics and the English Language" in 1946, the year following the end of the Second World War. In the essay, Orwell explained that many average citizens did not fully understand the politics of the era (such as the true meaning of Fascism) because modern English writers and politicians were using imprecise, complicated language. 

Instead, Orwell suggested writing in a concrete manner. Toward the end of his essay, he outlines six rules for writers to follow to achieve concrete language.

1. "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print."

Orwell argues that seeing figures of speech too often blunts their impact. Orwell offers an example of a fresh, concrete simile in one of his own sentences that concludes "... his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern." 

2. "Never use a long word where a short one will do."

Orwell did not trust writers who used long, obscure words that made it difficult for the average reader to understand their meaning. 

3. "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."

Orwell ridiculed writers who "pad each sentence with extra syllables" in order to appear justified in their opinions. He contrasts single words that are clear in their meaning ("kill") with phrases that are unclear ("brought to a satisfactory conclusion").

4. "Never use the passive where you can use the active."

For clarity's sake, Orwell preferred writing in which the subject and verb are easily understood. His own writing uses many sentences in which a verb in the active tense immediately follows its subject, as in: "A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow..."

5. "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent."

This rule is linked with Orwell's preference for short words. In the history of the English language, many Latin-based words were introduced to the Germanic-based language of the Saxon tribes following the French-speaking Norman invasion and conquest of England in 1066 CE. Many of these Latin-based words are longer and more abstract. Orwell mentions "sub-aqueous" and "ameliorate." In Germanic/Saxon-based English, those ideas can be expressed more simply as "underwater" and "better."

6. "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

Orwell valued the individual writer's right to freely express his or her thoughts, and clarified that writers should always pay attention to how their words convey meaning. In his concluding argument, Orwell states, "I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely the language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought."