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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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What does Orwell imply about the decline of language?

Quick answer:

When he writes about the decline of the English language, Orwell is talking about the needless complication of prose, particularly in political writing.

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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 for two ends: firstly, to sound impressive and more authoritative to their readership, and secondly, to veil their meanings. Orwell finds that these trends not only kill precise, clear qualities in prose, but also that they can also be used to sinister ends, namely political propaganda.

For example, Orwell is disturbed by the way politicians use archaic terminology when promoting war. Terms like realm, throne, and shield evoke knightly valor, obscuring the violent atrocities and greed often associated with war. He also feels that modern English is used to disguise or brush away the uglier side of political activity, such as concentration camps, colonization, the killing of innocent civilians in wartime, and Stalinist purges.

Though he feels the English language's decline is widespread, Orwell is not entirely a pessimist on the matter. He thinks that the decline of the English language is something that can be stopped if people put forth the effort. For Orwell, it all comes down to thinking clearly and saying what one means without purple prose, stale imagery, or clich├ęs.

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