Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

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Politics and the English Language Characters

Introduction

As a work of criticism, Orwell’s essay does not have characters in the traditional narrative sense. However, it can be helpful to consider the authors of the five texts that Orwell calls upon to make his points.

Harold Laski

Harold Laski was a British political and economic theorist for the Labor Party. He started out as a pluralist who believed in a centralized government supported by local community organizations. Later in his career, however, he became a Marxist activist and hinted that a violent revolution would be necessary to overthrow the government. Orwell uses an excerpt of Laski’s writing as an example of vagueness wrought by an abundance of negatives, which Orwell asserts make “nonsense” of the entire passage.

Lancelot Hobgen

Lancelot Hobgen was a British medical statistician and linguist. He was known primarily for his staunchly anti-eugenics stance, and he was one of the first scientists to posit that nature and nurture both influenced a person. During World War II, Hobgen began developing a language called Interglossa. It was constructed using only 880 base words, which were derived from Greek and Latin as a concession to the number of technical and scientific words that had latinate roots. Interglossa was not meant to replace any individual language but rather facilitate communication across linguistic barriers for the purposes of scientific and political discourse. The passage that Orwell quotes is taken from Interglossa: A draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order, the book in which Hobgen outlines the principles of Interglossa. 

The passage Orwell criticizes is making an argument against the usage of idioms, as they require a specific context that non-native speakers often do not possess. Orwell takes issue with Hobgen’s dismissal of “everyday” phrases and idioms, which is somewhat contradictory in light of Orwell’s own dislike of many common metaphors.

Paul Goodman

Though Paul Goodman is not credited within Orwell’s essay, he is the author of the third passage. Paul Goodman was an American writer, therapist, and anarchist. The quote is drawn from a psychology essay that Goodman published in the New York–based literary and political journal Politics, titled “The Political Meaning of Some Recent Revisions of Freud.” Orwell asserts that the passage he quotes is “simply meaningless.”

The Authors of a Communist Pamphlet

Pamphlets, or short informal publications typically advocating for a specific agenda, were a common political tool in Orwell’s time. Orwell, who had a particular interest in the mechanisms and social impacts of propaganda, was an avid collector of pamphlets from across the political spectrum. The communist pamphlet Orwell cites in “Politics and the English Language” represents the broader genre of political publications that saturated Britain during...

(The entire section is 662 words.)