The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
The overriding theme of “Politics and the English Language” is the importance of clear language, especially when it comes to the communication of political ideals. Orwell highlights the gap that often exists between what people mean and what they actually say. When writers resort to long words, clichés, and exhausted idioms, they’re often hiding what they really think. Like the cuttlefish who squirts ink at potential predators to avoid being eaten, those who use obfuscatory language are trying to avoid being pinned down by their opponents. The murkier one’s language, the harder it is to challenge what one says, making glibness and insincerity the order of the day.
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases—bestial atrocities, iron heel, blood-stained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder—one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy, the appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved.
This is an especially acute danger in the world of politics, wherein tired slogans and clichés are often heard from public platforms. Orwell rebukes the penchant of so many political speakers to resort to well-worn phrases that they know will resonate with a particular audience. Orwell asserts that in actuality, such phrases are almost completely devoid of meaning.
In such cases it’s as if the “hack” orator is no longer a human being but an automaton, blandly repeating pre-programmed phrases that have been used so often that they no longer mean anything. Orwell’s suggestion is that clear language, and the clear thinking that underlies it, is an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. If people abandon it, as so many politicians do, then they abandon their humanity by extension.
Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Political language of its very nature is irredeemable. It is always concerned with creating an alternative universe from which the truth has been expunged. Political discourse takes words, deprives them of their ordinary meanings, and distorts them for the sake of a specific ideology, be it conservatism, anarchism, socialism, or any other platform. Truth is malleable and interpretable, and language is the tool by...
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