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Politics and the English Language NOTES.pdf

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Greig Henderson

Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” Reading Notes - the English language is “in a bad way” but most people assume we can’t do anything about it - struggle against the abuse of language is archaic and sentimental - decline of a language has political and economic causes - it is a circular problem: our thoughts become foolish, which leads to poor language, which leads to even more foolish thoughts and in turn, even worse language - two faults of the English language: staleness of imagery and lack of precision - writers cannot express their meanings - vagueness/sheer incompetence - Dying Metaphors are worn-out phrases that have lost all evocative power, and are only used when people don’t want to go to the trouble of inventing a phrase for themselves - e.g. toe the line - many used without knowledge of their meaning - incompatible metaphors frequently mixed - sometimes twisted out of their meaning (e.g. “toe the line” written as “tow the line”) - Operators or Verbal False Limbs save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and pad each sentence with extra syllables - e.g. exhibit a tendency to - a verb becomes a phrase - passive voice used - noun constructions used rather than gerunds - Pretentious Diction - dresses up simple statements and gives an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements - e.g. “phenomenon”, “effective”, “constitute” - foreign words and expressions used to give an air of culture and elegance - this leads to an increase in vagueness - Meaningless Words - often done in art and literary criticism - many political words similarly abused (e.g. “Fascism” simply standing in for “bad”) - words may be used with one meaning and interpreted with another - tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness - modern writing does not consist of picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer - instead, long strips of words are just put together from ready-made phrases - with every sentence a scrupulous writer writes, she will ask: - What am I trying to say? - What words will express it? - What image or idiom will make it clearer? - Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? - Could I put it more shortly? - Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? - lazy writers avoid this by just using ready-made phrases - Political writing today is largely bad writing - political writing is the defense of the indefensible - thus political speeches are very vague and meaningless - this kind of phrasing can be used to disguise a true meaning - “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity” - just as thought can corrupt language, language too can corrupt thought - we must constantly be on guard against this - our language can be cured - if enough people tried, we could get rid of dying metaphors, “not un-”, Latin and Greek crossover words, foreign phrases and strayed scientific vocabulary, etc. - make pretentiousness unfashionable - curing English does not have to do with: - archaism - creating a “standard English” which must be adhered to - correct grammar and syntax - fake simplicity - making written English co
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