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ENGR 183EW Study Guide - Winter 2019, Comprehensive Final Exam Notes - Order Of Australia, Information Age, Veterans Day


Department
Engineering
Course Code
ENGR 183EW
Professor
All
Study Guide
Final

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ENGR 183EW

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1
George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946 (Abridged)
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad
way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. 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 a sentimental
archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to airplanes. Underneath this
lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we
shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have 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 is
happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are
foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
The (modern) 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. As soon as certain topics are
raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that
are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning,
and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
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: so that the fight against bad English is not
frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this
presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become
clearer. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work
of prose construction is habitually dodged:
Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while
on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect
reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in
between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all
evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases
for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride
roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to
the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed.
Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and
incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what
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2
he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning with
out those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes
written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the
implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the
hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would
avoid perverting the original phrase.
Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and
nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance
of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with,
be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in,
make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is
the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend,
kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose
verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible
used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by
examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the
-ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by
means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such
phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests
of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding
commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be
expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory
conclusion, and so on and so forth.
Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective,
categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize,
eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific
impartiality to biased judgments. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable,
triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of
international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color,
its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler,
banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime,
deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to
give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is
no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad
writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by
the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like
expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of
others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.
Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism,
it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.†
Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art
criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable
object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The
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