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October 03, 2012

Politics And Language - George Orwell

Politics and rhetoric have gone hand in hand for millinnia. Politicians have special words - almost code - to speak to certain audiences. George Orwell, as always....

...has some amazing observations of what politics does to language. In his essay 'Politics and the English Language' (http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/) he observed that political prose was formed "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

If you have been following the current US political campaigns - especially the debates - you will easily recognize (and confirm) Orwell's observations.

As you listen to President Obama and Mitt Romney speak of budgets, employment, policies, taxes, drones and many other things, keep in mind Orwell's thoughts:

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

Orwell's essay has a focus on the corruption of the English language thanks to political wavering and hedging. In that direction, Orwell has some tips on writing that we could all use;

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Writing in any context should be clear and focused.

Here is a perfect opportunity to see how words are used to persuade, inform, misinform and confuse.

Follow the arguments and the debates for an education on how language is really used.

Best to everyone!


Posted by mmorf at October 3, 2012 01:12 PM


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