Politics and the English Language

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George Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, first published in 1946, talks about some “bad habits”, which have driven the English language in the wrong direction, that is, away from communicating ideas. In his essay he quotes five passages, each from a different author, which embody the faults he is talking about. He lists dying metaphors, operators, pretentious diction, and meaningless words as things to look out for in your own writing and the writing of others (593-595). He talks about political uses of the English language. Our language has become ugly and the ugliness impedes upon communication. Ugly uses of language have been reinforced and passed down in the population “even among people who should and do know better,” (598). Ugly language has been gaining ground in our population by a positive feedback mechanism.

In a simple positive feedback mechanism, (A) produces more of (B) which in turn produces more of (A). This is often called a chain reaction. Through this system, “bad habits” get passed on to the population and, without proper tools or care, are accepted and spread further. Orwell explains that language is a tool for communicating ideas (591). These “bad habits” spread through our language and dull the tools people need to communicate.

Any craftsman knows that you need the right tools to complete a project successfully. Similarly, people need the right language and usage to communicate in a positive way. How people write is often a problem because they don’t have the right tools, but a bigger problem occurs when a writer “is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything at all” (592). If a writer carries this mentality, why try to communicate in the first place? People need...

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...t know what George Orwell would have to say about English now. We are in a largely technological age and, with text message slang and emoticons blanching all color from thought and emotion, I believe the English language is in even more trouble now than in George Orwell’s time. I imagine the English language as a lonely working class dog that has strayed far from home. I realize, in reality the lonely dog is right by our side. It’s not lost, just poorly trained. English should be seen as “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes” (591). We must ask ourselves, what is the use of having a poor quality tool if it doesn’t work? We have, through abuse and neglect, shaped “man’s best friend” into the sad form it is today. Should we grab the shot gun and take poor, old “Yeller” back behind the shed? No! We should take the steps to fix what we have done.
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