“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.”
Written in 1946, George Orwell’s essay, is an insightful critic of modern day writing. It explores the manipulation of language; with an emphasis on the ambiguous nature of political discourse, and its eroding effect on the English language. This is a must read for all types of writers, as well anyone interested in the unraveling of manipulated facts and complexity of important issues in today’s world.
Orwell describes modern prose as “ugly and inaccurate”. It is plagued by ‘dying metaphors’, ‘pretentious diction’ and other poor characteristics that leave it bare and vague. Political writing is on the worst end of the spectrum. Among other things, it largely consists of euphemism— making “lies sound truthful and murder respectful”. The orthodoxy is of a lifeless and imitative style.
However, George Orwell reiterates that this decay is reversible. He gives a guide to all writers, consisting of both set principles and reflective questions. Orwell points out the keys to making any writing come alive.
SOME MEMORABLE QUOTES
- There is a “half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for ourselves”. As we evolve, we do away with the old and get with the new— old habits are replaced with more efficient innovations. But, is today’s language any better than yesterday’s? One might easily answer yes without a second thought. Think twice and you will realize it’s not as simple as that. While language has ‘evolved’ over the centuries, it has not done so on its own, or made any era less expressive or less significant. Instead it has made each era unique to itself— unique in the way people chose to express their thinking. Language is an art which manifests itself in the way the artist chooses it to.
- “But if thoughts can corrupt language; language can also corrupt thoughts.” While the way you think influences the way you speak and the type of language you use, the opposite is true. We use language to express ourselves and our thoughts; but, at the same time we can use language to evoke different thoughts in others. For example, when giving a speech, the aim of the speaker is to convey his opinions to the audience, while persuading them to think along his own line of thinking. So to evoke that very feeling he wants them to feel, he will choose his words carefully, order them carefully, and say them with the utmost care and emphasis. Words like imagine not only lead us on a journey of new thought, but, they lead us away from old thoughts—for a moment we forget our own thoughts.
- “Ready-made phrases—construct sentences—even think thoughts for you to a certain extent—and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” I for one, know I am guilty of running to use these: a desperate attempt to make my last minute essay writing, easier, with a ring of expertise. At times this has meant I had to change my line of thinking and way of expression, just to fit them in. Sadly, the writing seizes to be my own; short of originality, it fails to express my true views. Instead, it becomes a slab of different thoughts, systematically put together to form a convincing narrative that lacks a personal opinion.
Here is a Link to the essay: