pencil with three dialogue bubbles above it filled with writing

Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

Start Free Trial

What does Orwell mean by "operators" or "false limbs" in "Politics and the English Language"?

Quick answer:

By "operators" or "false limbs," Orwell is referring to the use of imprecise verbs and verbal phrases. He thinks that simple and more meaningful words make for writing that is more precise and more easily understood.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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 without a clear purpose in mind. This results in writing that is vague or fails to reflect the true intention of the writer. Orwell refers to these words as operators or false limbs.

Orwell provides several examples of verbal false limbs. Phrases such as "take effect," "exhibit a tendency to," and "give rise to" are unnecessarily clunky. They could be reduced to just a single verb instead of a phrase. This would make the sentence more powerful and clearer to the reader.

Additionally, sometimes writers pair their verbs with unneeded prepositions, like when writing "the fact that," "in view of," or "with respect to." Other examples occur when -ize and de- formations are added to verbs, which also obscures their meaning.

This use of language serves to pad sentences with unnecessary words that fail to add much to the meaning behind them. In fact, they tend to obscure the writer's intention, making their prose less precise. It renders the tone more pretentious without adding anything of substance. Furthermore, this type of language often puts writing in the passive voice when the active voice would be much more effective.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial