Politics and the English Language | Summary and Analysis

Summary of Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

 The article “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell begins by debunking prevalent assumptions that the decline of the English language is a mirror of society and politics, that this degeneration is unavoidable, and that resisting it is futile. He claims that this disempowering notion stems from a view of language as a “natural growth” rather than a “tool that we mould for our own goals.” Language can be used for a variety of purposes as an instrument. Language, as Orwell would demonstrate, has the ability to control people who use it unwittingly.  

The article focuses on political language, which is “intended to make falsehoods sound true and murder acceptable, and to give the illusion of solidity to pure wind,” according to Orwell. Because the language was intended to obscure rather than reveal the reality, Orwell argued that it had to be imprecise or meaningless. This hazy prose had spread to individuals who had no intention of concealing the truth, and it had hidden a writer’s thoughts from himself and others. Instead of vagueness, Orwell promotes concreteness and clarity, as well as individuality above political conformity. He provides a list of methods for dealing with deceptive and insincere language.

Orwell regards honest language as a political act in and of itself, a sort of defiance against pervasive and subtle rhetorical frameworks. Corrupted language, he claims, is nearly unavoidable in an atmosphere of “terrible politics” (such as the one in which he is writing). However, this does not imply that opposition to it is fruitless. He returns to his opening claim: that language is a technology, not a spontaneous evolutionary development. As a result, that tool can be manipulated. It does, however, necessitate the political writer’s or speaker’s diligent and purposeful effort. Orwell believes that unthinking and purposefully dishonest language may be discovered and opposed through mockery and, most importantly, a steadfast dedication to truthful portrayal.


Politics and the English Language | Analysis


George Orwell’s stand in terms of the language is political, to say the least. The politics of his theme become clear as he lays out his critique of corrupt language. He concentrates on the relationship between thought and language. His point isn’t that there’s a “proper” or “pure” type of language that writers should use; rather, they should have complete control over how they use language. He demonstrates how language is created, presumably without the author considering how or why they are doing it. The author is unaware of the changes being wrought at his hands. Language becomes tainted as a result of this distance, psychological and intangible. Rather than using language to express a precise intended meaning, political writers unconsciously repeat old patterns, employ established phrases, and make their rhetoric sound a certain way. He demonstrates a process of pantomiming, mimicking, or something resembling baby language. When writers utilise “dying metaphors”, “operators or verbal false limbs”, “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words”, it appears that they are attempting to convey a meaning rather than actually conveying one. When the connection between language and meaning is lost, corruption occurs.

While it can be understood that Orwell is repelled by any show of dishonesty or pretentiousness in the language one is using, it becomes clear that the politics Orwell views as the right political stance is one that goes against the entire concept of imperialism and colonialism. Orwell seems opposed to pretentiousness in general, that the people employ in their daily life, both within their rhetoric and actions. He opposes the very deception of pretending to have a certain relevance, importance, or complexity where none exists. However, this attack on such pretentiousness clearly appears to be a barely veiled attack on the much-employed imperialist diction. One of the main reasons for such pretentious diction, he claims, is to glorify war. The repurposing of the sheer atrocities committed through colonialism is something he is vehemently opposed to politically.

However, Orwell’s article reveals a significant ironic statement that continues throughout the article. This is his discussion of “meaningless words”, and this is where a political irony is revealed. It comes as no surprise that his examples of useless phrases include two of the most powerful and significant political terms in and out of history: fascism and democracy. It may appear ironic to refer to these words as worthless and meaningless, but even this tone is central to Orwell’s idea of politics.
There is an implicit and totalizing indictment of the language employed by the parties in their politics in his critique of dead, unimaginative, and abstract language. Because it would appear difficult, if not impossible, to repeat a well-known, recognised “party line” using new, creative language or independent thought. If a political writer or speaker thinks freely and asserts agency in presenting their ideas, and follows Orwell’s criteria, their ideas cannot be rehashes of pre-existing party stances. As a result, it would be difficult to avoid Orwell’s criticism of any overtly partisan language, or any language that is easily identified with a shared political goal.
Orwell’s world in this article is full of binaries, if one manages to get it straight. These binaries would include but are not limited to the juxtaposition of two stances in a political world, a politician’s stand and the opposition. This does not generally exist in the real world as there are as many stances and viewpoints as there are people. Whatever a person does in their life is political at its root. Everything is at its base, political. Nothing is exempt from the inherent politics of every single human action. What matters most, however, is how people write and speak about politics. From the most politically charged to the simplest turn of phrase, any political language that conforms to standardised terms or common figures of speech reflects laziness, lack of thought, and the sin of pantomiming others’ opinions. This is Orwell’s condemnation of a corrupted language.

However, one mustn’t get lost in the binary created by Orwell through this article. Political views can differ and independent thinking is not always in opposition to a political stance. The flow of political ideologies is not trapped within the box of language but exists in a fluid motion through endless dialogues. The positions and principles are constantly in motion within the political party as well as with the public. Politics doesn’t and cannot exist in isolation and nor does the language mean anything if not taken in dialogue with the people.
It’s vital to notice that near the end of the essay, Orwell makes the point that he isn’t preaching perfectionism. At first look, his standards for autonomous thinking appear to have a silencing effect, in that there would be almost no truly independent turn of phrase. The formation of a sentence is entirely dependent on a degree of consistency. But Orwell isn’t advocating for accuracy nor is he propagating precision, and he’s also not suggesting that every statement must be fully “unique”. Instead, all he requires is for the writers to double-check their ideas and language against a set of fundamental rules whether it be their own or synthetic. Another significant caution he adds is that his discussion does not concern creative literary expression.

Orwell’s comments and views about the deterioration of English as a language can be taken into consideration once the general public is made aware that such a presumptuous maze exists in a politician’s speech. However, unless there’s a mass awareness about such critique and such methodology that these politicians employ to confound the public, there will always be a state of the English language where it will solely be used as a means to manipulate the public and keep them in the dark. This can be taken into effect in any language, anywhere in the world, as long as there is a politician garnering publicity. There will always be an insincere use of language and confoundment within the language. However, this is not just to say that because politicians use a language to pull the strings within the ignorant public, it is what degrades a language. No. The sole reason language exists is for communication and there may not be a direct link between the existence of a language and the deterioration caused by a politician’s use of it. It is not just the politicians who employ a language, but numerous others. To ask everyone to adhere to a certain set of rules in order to reverse the effect of politics on a language is to ask everyone to hand their creativity away. Rules and language are bound only to the extent of being governed by it in a grammatical manner. If there were only certain words, straightforward and simple, in existence, even then the evil and devilish users would find a way to manipulate that. As long as rules exist, rebels exist. The only way such a “deterioration” can be possibly reversed is through a steady flow of creativity, and with it, rebellion. Politicians curb the creativity and imagination of the public in order to hoard the words to themselves so that they can use the language for their sole purpose. However, rules and their intricate relationship with resistance and rule-breaking go both ways.

Orwell might have meant to warn the general public of such use of the English language and he might have believed that English is turning into an “ugly and inaccurate” version of itself in the hands of a handful of people. However, there is one thing that Orwell might have forgotten to take into consideration, that people’s one true power that cannot be taken away however much there might be a restriction on it, is imagination. Language is made by people and exists for the people. A handful of politicians or journalists distorting a language will always be overshadowed and overpowered by the sheer number of people who rebel against it. This comes off as a weird thing seeing how Orwell himself is a writer possessing the entire prowess of the English language. And how he believes that everything is political. So his caution that these rules and ideologies do not pertain to creative writing is as meaningless as he deemed other parts of speech. Creative writing is inherently political. Perhaps everything would have a resolution if Orwell managed to include creative expression within his critique of political rhetoric.





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