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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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How does Orwell use ethos in "Politics and the English Language"?

Quick answer:

Orwell uses ethos in "Politics and the English Language" by not attacking the poor writing of any one particular group. He also models the kind of clear, simple prose he advocates for, practicing what he preaches.

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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 essay about the dangers of sloppy and thoughtless writing is to choose examples of poor writing from across a wide spectrum. This way, Orwell does not appear to be attacking writers on the grounds of their profession or political leanings—his attack does not seem personal. He is standing above the fray and arguing that across society as a whole, writers are failing. This helps to establish him as unbiased and therefore trustworthy.

For example, Orwell highlights both the writings of professors and of an ordinary person writing a letter to the editor as examples of poor writing. Orwell also chooses writing by a communist as an example of the bad writing he is describing, and Orwell himself was a political leftist (Orwell was a severe critic of Stalinism but not of communism per se). In including these various examples, Orwell can't be accused of having a particular animosity toward any particular group or a particular agenda that would discredits his attack on poor writing.

Orwell also establishes his ethos by modeling the kind of clear, straightforward writing he says is important for conveying meaning and for not confusing people. Practicing what one preaches is an important way of establishing credibility.

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