By George Orwell’s
Most people who have trouble with the matter that English language is in a bad way, for this concern George Orwell’s in his most famous essays, Politics and the English Language, he examines political writing (and writing in general) in English, diagnoses its serious faults, and suggests remedies.
Our civilization is decadent, and our language, so the argument runs must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is sentimental archaism. But it belief that language is a natural growth and not and instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Then, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have a political and economic causes; it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that it happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.
These below are the examples of the English language as it is now habitually written, these passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad,
1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)
2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .
Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)
3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)
4. All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!
Letter in Tribune
Each of these passages has faults of its own, these can be seen as in:
1. uses five negatives in fifty three words. Making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin --, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.
2. plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means
3. it is simply meaningless
4. the writer knows more or less what he wants to say
5. words and meaning have almost parted company.
These passage also has quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision, it means the writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.
Another example which has faults of its own, i.e. the verse from Ecclesiastes. It will be translated from the Good English into modern English of the worst sort.
“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase., This kind of writing is not yet universal.
Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer.A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible, it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism. The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. 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. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. Then if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.
Orwell said that the decadence of our language is probably curable. He belief that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. It has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When yo think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. These are the examples of various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:
1. Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead". Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact.
2. Operators, or verbal false limbs, it is the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns. Instead of being a single word. The passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases.
3. Pretentious diction are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Foreign words are used to give an air of culture and elegance. There is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, would especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.
4. Meaningless words which are almost completely lacking in meaning. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way.
Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. This is rules, in particular, Orwell states his beliefs of what writers should do:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.
Finally, Orwell has not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. 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. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even.
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