Introduction to Politics and the English Language

George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” was published in 1946 in the literary magazine Horizon. Though modern considerations of Orwell more often focus on his novels, especially Animal Farm and 1984, his contemporaries knew him better as an essayist and literary critic. “Politics and the English Language” is regarded as one of his most influential works of criticism for its analysis of the vague and overly complicated rhetoric that suffused the post–World War II political and intellectual landscape.

Orwell’s oeuvre focuses heavily on the dangers posed by authoritarianism, and in “Politics and the English Language” he expresses the belief that the manipulation of language is a powerful tool in the arsenal of tyranny. Using examples pulled from other contemporary works and speeches, Orwell demonstrates the ways in which abstract, imprecise language obscures meaning—both intentionally and unintentionally—and offers solutions for writing more straightforward prose.

A Brief Biography of George Orwell

George Orwell (1903–1950) was a socialist, born Eric Arthur Blair, who wrote some of the greatest criticisms of totalitarianism published in the twentieth century. He did so through honesty and direct personal experience, and is best known for his novels Animal Farm and 1984. The first is a fable written in simple language; the second is a dystopian novel full of brutal descriptions and dense theoretical discussions of politics. Both novels methodically expose the dangers of the totalitarian state. Orwell is also known as one of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century. “Shooting an Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” are still widely read today and still offer powerful statements on the nature of ethics, responsibility, politics, and writing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Politics and the English Language

Politics and the English Language

In Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," he lays out six rules for good writing, which to him is clear, precise writing that tells the truth. Anyone who has taken a writing course will find...

Latest answer posted July 31, 2021, 12:15 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Orwell wrote "Politics and the English Language" in 1945 because he had become increasingly alarmed over the connection between the misuse of language and the misuse of politics. He saw a direct...

Latest answer posted July 31, 2021, 11:54 am (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Orwell's purpose in "Politics and the English Language" is to demonstrate the connection between sloppy use of language and corrupt politics and to give advice about how to avoid such bad writing....

Latest answer posted July 31, 2021, 1:04 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Metaphors are comparisons that don't use the words like or as. A good metaphor compares two unlike things in ways that are unusual but that strike readers as true. However, some metaphors become so...

Latest answer posted August 1, 2021, 11:54 am (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

George Orwell, the well-known novelist, essayist, and political activist is the author of "Politics and the English Language." The name "George Orwell" is a pseudonym, or pen name, chosen by Eric...

Latest answer posted August 1, 2021, 1:09 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell distinguishes between "scrupulous" writers and writers who want primarily to express their emotions and show their allegiance to one side of an...

Latest answer posted August 3, 2021, 1:42 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Ethos is one of Aristotle's three pillars of persuasion. It establishes a writer's credibility or authority so that readers trust what he or she has to say. One way Orwell establishes ethos in this...

Latest answer posted August 1, 2021, 12:23 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Orwell believes that ready-made phrases and mixed metaphors cloud meaning for both the reader and the writer and should thus be avoided. Ready-made phrases are those segments of writing that have...

Latest answer posted August 1, 2021, 12:51 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

The central analogy in Orwell's essay is that clarity of expression—good writing—is connected to clarity of thought, or effective politics. He writes that our writing becomes "ugly" because our...

Latest answer posted August 1, 2021, 1:19 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

Orwell lists several types of poor writing in "Politics and the English Language," such as using dying or stale metaphors, using unneeded words and passive voice, and employing pretentious or...

Latest answer posted August 2, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell criticizes the use of what he calls dead metaphors. These are metaphors that have become so worn-out and overused that they no longer...

Latest answer posted August 2, 2021, 2:58 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

A piece of food that is stale is dried out and old and doesn't taste good, and imagery is description using any of the five senses. Imagery is one of the basics of good writing, just as food is one...

Latest answer posted August 2, 2021, 12:10 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

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...

Latest answer posted August 2, 2021, 2:00 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell criticizes how many writers commonly use imprecise language. He feels that writers often use convoluted verbs and verbal phrases...

Latest answer posted August 3, 2021, 2:51 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

George Orwell opens his essay "Politics and the English Language" by describing the current state of the English language. He says, Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that...

Latest answer posted August 3, 2021, 3:15 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

When discussing the decline of language, Orwell is talking about the needless complication of modern English. Orwell feels that a great many modern writers use foreign words and complicated prose...

Latest answer posted August 3, 2021, 12:44 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell argues that modern English writing lacks precision above all. It is plagued by clichés and vagueness, obscuring meaning. As to why authors are...

Latest answer posted August 3, 2021, 1:03 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell gives five examples of passages recently written in English to illustrate the faults he is discussing. These passages, he says, all share at...

Latest answer posted August 2, 2021, 2:03 pm (UTC)

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Politics and the English Language

In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell claims that contemporary English is generally badly written and without grace, vividness, or even clarity, and he gives several examples to illustrate...

Latest answer posted July 31, 2021, 2:33 pm (UTC)

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