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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell

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Why does Orwell object to ready-made phrases and mixed metaphors?

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Orwell objects to ready-made phrases and mixed metaphors because they cloud the meaning for both the writer and audience. He asserts that such writing reflects an inability to clearly convey the details of a topic.

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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 been set in motion by someone else. Generally speaking, they have a pleasing sound, but Orwell cautions that falling into the trap of using others' phrasing prevents writers from deeply considering their own writing. Good writers, he argues, deeply consider each sentence they construct, first examining what they want to say and then intentionally crafting sentences that best convey that intended meaning.

By using ready-made phrases, writers skip this deep reflection and may cloud their intended meaning, even from themselves. Orwell uses phrases such as "bloodstained tyranny," "free peoples of the world," "lay the foundations," and "achieve a radical transformation" as examples of such phrases that writers and speakers often employ. Relying on the phrasing of others, he contends, turns writers and speakers into "robots" who exhibit a reduced state of consciousness.

Mixed metaphors reflect this same thoughtless construction of ideas. Orwell points to writers who use phrases such as "Fascist octopus has sung its swan song" to demonstrate this mental cacophony of ideas. Instead of making the ideas more clear through the use of figurative language, writers who employ such metaphors demonstrate that they aren't really thinking about the topic at all. Mixed metaphors indicate that a writer has a general idea of what he wants to say but then convolute the meaning like "tea leaves blocking a sink."

Both types of writing, Orwell asserts, indicate that a writer has decided on an emotional meaning for a piece of writing but is not interested in the details of communicating a clear message.

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