Why does Orwell think that language has degenerated so much?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell, in his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language," says that

it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes:

Among the problems of modern English are:

  1. The first is staleness of imagery ("Dying metaphors.")
  2. the other is lack of precision ("Pretentious diction." and problems picking out appropriate verbs and nouns

What causes these two problems?  From the book 1984, I would suggest:

  • censorship: by the state, church, or other institution
  • overuse of technical jargon and nomenclature
  • overuse of politically correct language (euphemism and litote)
  • general laziness in thought: thought corrupts language and language corrupts thought.
  • too much information, so the public cannot recognize misinformation and propaganda from good information
  • fear of surveillance, profiling, and violation of freedoms of speech by the government
  • technology and entertainment replacing books

Orwell's advice to correcting these problems:

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

(ii) Never us 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.


missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you are referencing 1984 since you have tagged Orwell, but not a novel. I will move it for you.

Newspeak occurs in 1984 as a reflection of a dehumanizing society. We are always trying to make things shorter and easier, but sometimes that means robbing ourselves of the ability to think. It can also mean the dumbing down of language just to make things easier for everyone. At least that is the assumption.

The beauty of language, however, is that it gives speakers the room to be incredibly specific, clever, and thought-provoking. Orwell was worried about this occuring in the 40s and 50s. Now in the 2000s, we can certainly see that this has happened is some ways with the onset of industry and technology.