In terms of his essay Politics and the English Language, why, according to George Orwell, is it important that language should be used in a way that is not only clear, precise and fresh but also...

In terms of his essay Politics and the English Language, why, according to George Orwell, is it important that language should be used in a way that is not only clear, precise and fresh but also not ugly or barbarous?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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George Orwell, in his essay, Politics and the English Language, refers to "mental vices" that have caused the depreciation of the language. The examples he uses reflect "staleness" and are nothing more than "phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse." Words do not reflect their meaning and are being "perverted" because those who are writing do not take due care or show sufficient interest in what they are saying. It is important to discuss this problem in order to highlight its existence as otherwise, writers and readers do not even realize that they are party to such abuse of language.

Using words to simply "dress up" sentences is, according to Orwell, to be discouraged. A statement is not less biased, he suggests, by adding words that fool the reader into considering the statement to be scientifically-based when it is plain opinion. Foreign words and phrases do nothing  and are used because writers think that, "Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones." Orwell notes how words are used to "deceive" people into believing that they are something that they are not and a word comes to mean what the writer- especially in political writing - infers from its use rather than what can be understood from the sentence. He uses the word "democracy" as an example and notes that, because of the association between the word democracy and a just and fair system, people use the word to create a perception, after which they can fool the reader into believing it exists in this context, even if it clearly does not.

The result of using language incorrectly and mixing metaphors which serve to confuse, not only the reader but the writer himself, is, Orwell contends, very useful in politics. The "reduced state of consciousness" that results from speeches in which the speaker merely repeats phrases that he knows the audience will respond to, that he knows they want to hear, allows him to operate within a "cloudy vagueness" and to not scare or force his audience to face the real truth. Insincerity in politics promotes poor language use in order to mask real meaning and real intentions.    

Orwell states five rules that should suffice in preventing this "barbarous" language use. He also admits that, following these rules, does not guarantee their appropriate use. It is important, he says, to start with a person's own tendency to use language badly and to change his own attitude which may then contribute to change and improvement, even on a small scale. It will be a good thing if, in doing so, at least one "worn-out and useless phrase" can be disregarded. 

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