[lg policy] book notice: Politics and the English language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 23 13:45:19 UTC 2011

Politics and the English language

by George Orwell.

    Published in 1946, this essay Orwell is a classic of political
thought and literature of the twentieth century. Shortly translated by
its inherent difficulties, we present to readers in a new light
version of Alberto Supelano.

Most people somehow care about the subject would admit that the
language goes astray, but usually assume that we can not do anything
about it through conscious action. Our civilization is decadent and
our language-so the argument-must inevitably share the general
collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language
is archaic and sentimental, and when they prefer candles to electric
light or hansom cabs to airplanes. Implicit in this is semi-conscious
belief that language is a natural development and not an instrument
which we shape for our own purposes.

Now it is clear that the decline of a language must have, ultimately,
political and economic causes: it is simply due to the bad influence
of this or that writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing
the original cause and producing the same effect more intense, and so
on. A man may drink because they think it is a failure, and then fail
completely because he drinks. Something similar is happening with the
English language. It has become rough and inaccurate because our
thoughts are crazy, but the slovenliness of our language makes it
easier to think nonsense. 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 we are willing
to take the trouble. If we let go of these habits can think more
clearly and think clearly is a first step toward political
regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not a frivolous
concern, exclusive of professional writers. Return to this and I hope
that at that time, more clear the meaning of what I have said here.
Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language is written
as usual.

I did not choose these five passages because they were especially bad,
could have quoted far worse if he had wanted to, but because they
illustrate some of the mental vices suffer today. They are a little
below average, but are fairly representative examples. The number so
you can refer to them when necessary:

1. In fact, I’m not sure that is not true to say that the Milton who
once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley did not become,
from bitter experience provided each year, more alien [sic] to the
founder that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to erate
(Harold Laski, essays on freedom of expression).

2. Above all, we can not skip a stone on the water with a native
battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of words
tolerate as basic English "let go" rather than "tolerate" or "stop
loss" instead to "embarrass" (Professor Lancelot Hogben,

3. On the one hand, we have the free personality: by definition it is
not neurotic, for it has no conflicts or dreams. His wishes, as they
are, are transparent, they are just what institutional approval keeps
in the foreground of consciousness, another institutional pattern
would alter their number and intensity, there is little in them that
is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. On the other hand,
the social bond is simply a reflection of these integrations mutual
self-protected. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the
portrait of an academic minor? Where no place in this hall of mirrors
for the personality or fraternity? (Essay on psychology in politics,
New York).

4. All the "good people" of the gentlemen’s clubs, and all frantic
fascist captains, united in their common hatred of Socialism and
bestial horror at the rising tide of revolutionary mass movement, have
turned to provocative actions, to fiery speeches , to medieval legends
of poisoned wells, par
to legalize the destruction of proletarian organizations, and to
awaken in the petty bourgeoisie agitated chauvinistic fervor on behalf
of the struggle against the revolutionary way out of crisis (Communist

5. To infuse a new spirit in this ancient country, you should address
a thorny and contentious reform, the humanization and galvanization of
the BBC. Here, shyness revealed cancer and atrophy of the soul. The
heart of Britain may be sound and pounding, for example, but the
British lion’s roar is at present, like a corkscrew in Dream Midsummer
Night Shakespeare, as gentle as the cooing of a dove . The virile new
Britain can not continue indefinitely in the eyes translating or
rather, the ears of the world through sterile Langham Palace
languishing, shamelessly disguised as "standard English". When the
Voice of Britain is heard at 9 o’clock, is far better and infinitely
less ludicrous to hear spoken honestly Hs current honeyed singsong,
affected, inflated and inhibited these virgin maidens shyly murmuring
"I was not " (From a letter to the Tribune).

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but apart from avoidable
ugliness, two qualities are common. The first images are trite, the
second the lack of precision. The writer has a meaning and can not
express, or inadvertently says something else, or it is almost
immaterial whether or not his words have meaning. This mixture of
vagueness and incompetence is clearly the most striking feature of
modern English prose, and in particular any kind of political writing.
As soon as certain topics are touched, the concrete is dissolved in
the abstract and no one seems able to use turns of language that are
not hackneyed: prose uses less and less words chosen because of its
meaning, and more and more together as expressions sections of a
prefabricated henhouse. Below I list, with notes and examples, some of
the tricks by which one gets used to evade the task of composing

Moribund metaphors. A metaphor that helps make up just thought evoking
a visual image, while a metaphor technically "dead" (for example, "a
steely determination") has become an ordinary and usually can be used
without loss vivacity. But between these two classes there is a huge
dump of worn metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are
used only because they avoid the problem people to invent their own
sentences. Some examples: "the bell toll by", "wield the stick," "hold
off", "trampling the rights of others," "march shoulder to shoulder",
"make the move a", "fight not to marry" "take grain to the mill,"
"fish in troubled waters", "the agenda", the "Achilles heel", "Swan
Song", "dung." Many of them are used without knowing its meaning (what
is a "rift," for example?) And often incompatible mix metaphors, a
sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he says. Some
metaphors are common today have strayed from their original meaning
without those who use them are aware of that fact. For example, "hold
off" is sometimes confused with "draw 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 is always the anvil that
breaks the hammer, never the other way: a writer who stopped to think
about what you are saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false extensions. They avoid the problem of
choosing appropriate verbs and nouns, while gorge each sentence with
extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Some
characteristic expressions are "non-operational again," military
"against", "contact with", "subject to", "result", "give rise to,"
"have the effect of," "play a role (role) in principal, "" be felt ","
take effect "," exhibit the tendency to "" serve the purpose ", etc..
The basic principle is to eliminate simple verbs. Instead of a single
word, such as break, stop, strip, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase,
consisting of a noun or an adjective attached to a general-purpose
verb such as prove, serve, train, play, return. Moreover, wherever
possible, we prefer to use the passive voice to active voice, and noun
constructions instead of gerunds ("by the test" instead of
"consideration"). The range of verbs is further restricted by using
verbs that end in "lift" or start with "des" and trivial claims gives
an appearance of depth by using expressions that begin with "no"
instead of
use the prefix "in" as "not founded" instead of "unfounded." The
Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by expressions such
as "about", "considering that" "that," "Life," "given," "in interest"
" according to the hypothesis that "and avoid ending sentences with an
anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as" coveted "," no one can
fail to take into account "," development is expected in the future
close "," worthy of serious consideration, "" led to a successful
conclusion, "and so on.

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 decorate a simple statement and give a tone scientific
impartiality to biased judgments. Adjectives like epoch *, epic,
historic, unforgettable, triumphant, old, inevitable, inexorable,
true, are used to dignify the sordid process of international
politics, while glorifying war written to sound archaic, and its
characteristic words are: domain, throne, chariot, armed robbery,
trident, sword, shield, armor, jackboot, clarion. Used foreign words
and phrases like "cul de sac", "ancien régime", "deus ex machina",
"mutatis mutandis", "status quo", "Gleichschaltung", "Weltanschauung"
to give an air of class and culture . Except for the useful
abbreviations "ie", "eg", and "etc.". There is no real need for so
many hundreds of foreign phrases that are now commonplace in the
English language. Bad writers, especially writers, scientists,
political and sociological, are nearly always haunted by the notion
that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon, and unnecessary
words like expedite, improve, predict, extraneous, rootless,
clandestine , underwater and hundreds more are gaining ground on the
Anglo-Saxon. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman,
cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, sycophant, mad dog,
White Guard, etc.). Consists of words translated from Russian, German
or French, but how normal to coin a new word is to use Latin or Greek
root with the appropriate particle and, where necessary, the size
suffix. It is often easier to form words of this class
(desregionalizar, impermissible, extramarital, not piecemeal, etc.).
To think that English words have meaning. In general, the result is an
increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Nonsense words. In some writings, including art criticism and literary
criticism, it is normal to find long passages which are almost
completely meaningless. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human,
dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are
strictly meaningless, because not only does not indicate an object
that can be discovered, but not even expects the reader to discover.
When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is
its living quality," while another writes "What immediately attracts
attention in the work of Mr. X is peculiarly dull tone," the reader
accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If you use words like
"black" and "white" instead of the slang terms "life" and "death"
would at once that language is being used improperly. Many also are
abused politically. Today the term fascism has no meaning except as
meaning "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism,
freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have several different meanings
which can not be reconciled with each other. In the case of a word
like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition but the effort
to find a clash with opposition from all sides. It is almost
universally thought that when we call a country democratic we are
praising, which is why advocates of any kind of regime claim that it
is a democracy, and fear that have to stop using that word if it is
given a meaning. They often use words such as deliberately dishonest.
That is, the person using them has its own private definition, but
allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.
Statements like "Marshal Petain was a true patriot," "The Soviet press
is the freest in the world", "The Catholic Church is opposed to
persecution" are almost always the intention to deceive. Other words
used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonesty are:
class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, as

Having laid out this list of swindles and perversions, let me give
another example of the kind of writing that carries them. This time
its nature must be imaginary. I will translate a passage of good
English in modern English of the worst kind. Here is a well-known
verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun the race is not to the swift nor the
battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of
understanding, nor favor to those who are able, but time and the
opportunity to befall them.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the
conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits
no tendency commensurate with innate capacity, but a notable element
of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not too coarse. The numeral 3, for example,
contains several pieces of the same kind of English. I did not see a
full translation. The beginning and end of the sentence follow the
original meaning closely, but in the middle the concrete
illustrations-race, battle, bread-dissolve in vague terms as "success
or failure in competitive activities." This had to be because none of
the modern writers I am discussing-no one capable of using phrases
like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" – would
express his thoughts in that precise and detailed so. The general
tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these
two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 51 words and
only 86 syllables, and all words used in everyday life. The second
contains 44 words and 108 syllables, many with Latin roots and some
Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one
phrase ("time and chance") that can be called vague. The second
contains not a single expression fresh, appealing, and despite its
more than 100 syllables gives only a shortened version of the meaning
of the first. And without a doubt the second type of expression that
is gaining ground in modern English. Do not want to exaggerate. This
type of writing is not yet universal, and outbreaks of simplicity
appear here and there on page written worse. However, if you or I were
asked that we write a few lines about the uncertainty of human
destiny, it is likely that we were closer to my imaginary sentence of
Ecclesiastes. As I tried to show, the worst of modern writing is not
to choose the words because of their meaning and inventing images to
make the meaning clearer. Paste consists of long strips of words whose
order and set another, and making the results presentable by a trap.
The appeal of this form of writing is easy. It is easier-and even
faster once you have the habit, saying "In my opinion there is an
alleged unjustifiable" to say "I". If you use phrases, not only has to
look for the words, nor have to worry about the rhythm of sentences,
since they usually already have a more or less euphonious. When
writing in haste, when dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or
making a public speech, naturally fall into a latinized and
pretentious style. Fillers such as "a consideration to keep in mind"
or "a conclusion with which all agree" save many an expression whose
construction will produce syncope. The use of metaphors, similes and
idioms beaten save much mental effort, at the expense of the meaning
is vague, not only for readers but for the writer. This is the
significance of mixed metaphors. The sole purpose of a metaphor is to
evoke a visual image. When these images clash-as "fascist octopus
singing the swan song", "the jackboot was thrown into the melting pot"
– you can make certain that the author is not seeing a mental image of
the objects being appointed, in other words, not really thinking. Look
again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor
Laski (1) uses five negatives in 54 words. One of these is superfluous
and removed all sense of the passage, and there is a slip-alien for
akin, which compounds the nonsense, and several avoidable blunder
samples that increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2)
blows up a stone in the water with a battery capable of prescribing
rules, and, while disapproving of the everyday expression that you
use, is not willing to look for "egregious" in the dictionary to see
what it means, ( 3), if one adopts an uncharitable attitude simply
meaningless: probably one could unravel its intended meaning Leye
nd the whole article in which it appears. In (4) the writer knows more
or less what you mean, but the accumulation of cliches stifles felt
like tea leaves clog the dishwasher. In (5) the words and meaning
almost unrelated. People who write in this way shows a general
emotional meaning-hate something and want to express solidarity with
another-but is not interested in the details of what you are saying.
In every sentence you type, a careful writer is at least four
questions, namely:

What am I trying to say?

What words express it?

What image or idiom makes it more clear?

Does this image is new enough to have an effect?

And perhaps be two more:

¿I can be shorter?

Did I say something to avoid ugly?

But you are not required to address the whole problem. Can avoid
leaving your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come and
squeezed. They construct sentences for you-and to some extent even
think your thoughts for you, and if necessary will provide the
important service of partially concealing your meaning even for
yourself. At this point, the special connection between politics and
the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time is a general truth that political writing is bad writing.
If not, the writer is a rebel who express their private opinions and
not the "party line". Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to require
an imitative style and lifeless. The political dialects that appear in
pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and speeches of
Departments vary, of course, between one party and another, but all
are similar in that almost never use new turns of speech, vivid,
homemade . When a hack parrots platitudes in the stands – "bestial",
"atrocities," "Iron Heel", "bloody tyranny," "free peoples of the
world," "march shoulder to shoulder" – it has the strange feeling of
not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling that
becomes more intense at times that the light illuminates the speaker’s
spectacles and look like behind the blank discs which seem to have no
eyes. And this is not entirely imaginary. A speaker who uses that
wording has been taken away from himself and has become a machine. In
his larynx out the appropriate noises, but your brain is not
compromised as it would if choosing his words for himself. If the
speech he is doing is a speech that wont make again and again, can be
almost unconscious of what he is saying, as he sings in the church
litany. And this reduced state of consciousness, although not
essential, is still favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of
the indefensible. Things like "the continuation of British rule in
India", "Russian purges and deportations," "The launch of the atomic
bombs in Japan," can be defended, of course, but only by arguments
which are too brutal for most people, and are incompatible with the
professed aims of political parties. Thus, political language is full
of euphemisms, question-begging and vagueness dark. Defenseless
villages are bombarded from the air, its inhabitants are drawn into
the field by force, abalea to livestock, raze the huts with incendiary
bullets: this is called as "pacification." Sheds millions of peasants
from their lands and launches them into the streets with nothing more
than what they can carry on their backs, and this is called
"population transfer" or "rectification of frontiers." It imprisons
people without trial for years, or is shot in the neck or sent it to
die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called as "elimination
of non-trustworthy." Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name
things without calling up mental images. Take, for example, a
comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. You
can not honestly say "I believe in the murder of opponents when you
can get good results killed." Therefore, you may say something like

Although freely accept that the Soviet regime exhibits certain
features that one would be inclined to deplore humanist, I think we
accept that a certain curtailment of rights of political opposition is
an unavoidable consequence of the transition periods, and that the
rigors which the Russian people has endured have been amply justified
in the field of
s concrete achievements.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin
words falls upon the facts like soft snow, clean up the edges and bury
all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.
When there is a gap between actual and declared objectives, they
almost instinctively use long words and idioms worn, like an octopus
that ejects ink to hide. In our time it is not possible to "stay out
of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics is a mass
of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general
atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. Might guess, an assumption I
can not confirm with my poor knowledge-that languages ​​German,
Russian and Italian deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years as a
result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A
bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who
should know and do better. The language that I have examined is
degraded in some way, very convenient. Expressions like "a not
unjustifiable assumption," "a consideration that we must always keep
in mind," leave much to be desired, not serve a good purpose, are a
continuous temptation, a box of aspirins always at hand. Re-read this
essay, and surely will find again and again the same mistakes I made
against which I protested. In the mail this morning I received a
pamphlet about the conditions in Germany. He told me that "felt
impelled" to write. I opened it at random and this is the first
sentence read: "[The Allies] have an opportunity not only to achieve a
radical transformation of social and political structure of Germany so
as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the
same time they can lay the foundations for a cooperative and unified
Europe. " When we read that "felt impelled" to write presumably has
something new to say, but his words, like cavalry horses that respond
to the trumpet, join a lineup automatically monotonously familiar.
This invasion of the mind phrases ("lay the foundations", "achieve a
radical transformation") can only be avoided if you are constantly on
guard against them, and each of these phrases anesthesia part of the

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is remediable.
Naysayers argue, if they could make an argument that language merely
reflects existing social conditions, and we can not directly influence
its development, playing with words and constructions. This can happen
with the general tone or spirit of a language, but not true for
details. The foolish words and expressions often disappear, not
through an evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a
minority. Two recent examples: "explore all avenues" and "leave no
stone unturned," which were awarded by the jeers of some journalists.
There is a long list of corrupt metaphors also disappear if a large
number of people bent on the task, and it should be possible to mock
the phrase "no report" until it ceases to exist, reducing the amount
of Latin and Greek in the phrase average, excluding foreign phrases
and scientific words wrong, and generally make the fashion show
pretentious tone. But all these are minor points. The defense of the
English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to
start by saying it does not imply.

To begin with, has nothing to do with archaism, with the preservation
of obsolete words and turns of language, and the exaltation of a
"standard English" that we should never depart. On the contrary, it is
discarded every word or idiom which has become worn and lost its
usefulness. It has nothing to do with grammar and the syntax correct,
unimportant when the meaning is clearly expressed, and the elimination
of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose."
Moreover, it is not to pretend a false simplicity or write in plain
English. Does not even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word
to the Latin, although it does imply using the fewest words, and
shorter, covering the meaning. What is needed above all is to let the
meaning choose the word and not vice versa. In prose, the worst thing
you can do with words is surrender to them. When you think a
particular object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you describe
what you have displayed, perhaps looking to find the exact words
TAS consistent with that object. When you think of something abstract
is more inclined to use words from the beginning, and unless you make
a conscious effort to avoid this, the existing dialect will come
suddenly and the task for you, at the expense of confusing and even
alter its meaning. Perhaps it is best to avoid using words as possible
and achieve a meaning as clear as I can through pictures and
sensations. You can then choose and not just accept-expressions that
better meet the meaning and then putting in place the reader and
decide what impressions produced in him the words you have chosen.
This last effort of the mind removes all worn or fuzzy images, all
prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and the pitfalls and
ambiguities. But often you may have doubts about the effect of a word
or expression, and need rules on who can rely on when instinct fails.
I think the following rules cover most cases:

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure grammatical sole seeing in print.

Never use a long word where a short can be used.

If it is possible to delete a word, delete it.

Never use the passive voice when you can use the active voice.

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you
can find an everyday English equivalent.

Break any of these rules before saying a barbarism.

These rules sound elementary, and they are, but they demand a deep
change of attitude in those who are accustomed to writing in the style
that is fashionable today. One can meet them all and still write bad
English, but could not write the kind of trivia that I quoted in those
five specimens at the beginning of this article.

Here I have not examined the literary use of language, only language
as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing
thought. Stuart Chase and others have come to expect that all abstract
words are meaningless and have used this as pretext for advocating a
kind of political quietism. If you do not know what is fascism, how
can you fight against fascism? One need not swallow absurdities like
this, but must recognize that the present political chaos is connected
with the decay of language and perhaps can provide some improvement
starting with the verbal aspect. If you simplify your English, is
freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. Can not speak any of the
necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity
will become obvious, even to yourself. Political language-and with
variations this is true for all political parties, from Conservatives
to Anarchists-is built to make lies sound truthful and murder
respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. You
can not change this in a moment, but you can change personal habits,
and can occasionally even if it mocks rather loudly, throwing a
useless cliché-some jackboot, an Achilles heel, a crucible , an acid
test, a real hell, or some other verbal or waste disposal in the
garbage, the place where it belongs.

* Epochmaking in the original. Castilian Although this expression is
not an adjective, was chosen neobarbarismo often used in some
translations of English texts of history and sociology of science.


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