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In his article “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell discusses the problems of political literature. He points out several issues that can be resolved to stop the language from declining. Orwell believes that the written English language is full of unnecessary or outdated phrases and empty words. Moreover, the writer insists that contemporary political language is structured in a way that confuses the reader and hides the true meaning behind some inflated statements. In this case, the examples of bad writing all possess the same qualities, which the author deems to be unacceptable to use. Although he mostly focuses on political language, it is clear that Orwell wants to affect other types of writing as well. For instance, he briefly mentions scientific papers, while criticizing the use of Latin and Greek words. Nevertheless, the writer mostly focuses on the political use of language, stating that one can manipulate the audience through complicated wording and structure.
After analyzing several sentences and outlining the main flaws that plague the written language, Orwell suggests six rules which one can follow to write, concisely, and sincerely. These rules sound definitive as five out of six of them use such words as “never” and “always.” For instance, the first rule states that one should “never use a metaphor, simile, or another figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print” (Orwell). Other rules forbid the use of long words instead of short ones, passive structures where one can use active ones, and foreign phrases, scientific terms, and professionalisms instead of their English equivalents. Moreover, the author argues that all unnecessary words should be cut out whenever possible. The last rule serves as a loophole to all the other ones, stating that an author should break all rules not to sound “outright barbarous” (Orwell). Orwell’s problem received many responses as scholars and authors continue to debate over its significance.
One of the more recent responses that cover various opinions about Orwell’s problem comes from Johnson, an anonymous column from The Economist. At the beginning of this piece, the author mentions that the newspaper uses Orwell’s rules in its style guide, which shows that the writers highly regard the six guidelines to this day. The article mentions that many people, including journalists, scholars, and linguists believe that this set of rules is based on solid logic. However, the author quickly points out that one should not view Orwell’s guidelines as absolute. It is possible to point out many flaws in the rules using the writing example of their creator himself (R.L.G.). Although the concept of Orwell’s essay is based on viable logic, it is practically impossible to always adhere to the proposed formula.
As the author of the column points out, Orwell also cannot abstain from breaking his own rules, while discussing their importance. Although Orwell admits his faults and notes that he uses passive constructions and long words as well, he does so reluctantly. The columnist mentions this fact and argues that it makes Orwell’s recommendations less infallible. Moreover, R.L.G. suggests some changes to these guidelines which would make the absolute statements more flexible and easy to follow. For example, instead of using “never” or “always,” one could change them to “prefer” and “try” (R.L.G.). These alterations could make a big difference in one’s perception of the rules, as their current wording makes them sound dogmatic.
According to the article, “critics point out that a strict application of these rules would make for very strange writing” (R.L.G.). Some authors even go as far as accusing Orwell of being subjective and dishonest in his statements as he breaks his own rules. Some also blame him for listing the aspects of the language that he does not like instead of suggesting an actual change. These statements may be unfairly harsh, although Orwell is also rather one-sided. The columnist argues that it is impossible to continuously use new metaphors and never add passive constructions to the text. Orwell, for instance, uses passive forms fairly often, which shows that even he cannot escape utilizing the structures that he sees as inferior. All in all, the columnist agrees that Orwell’s rules should be considered by writers as they can become a solid foundation for high-quality writing. However, they should not be used as the only guidelines for creating written texts.
I think that Orwell’s rules have their advantages and disadvantages. First of all, they can help writers to avoid unnecessary wordiness and vagueness. Orwell negatively views opaque statements, noting that people put words before meanings, while they should be doing the opposite. Thus, by following Orwell’s rules, one can remain coherent and logical in his or her writing, while stating the point sincerely and compactly. Second, the principle that encourages using new figures of speech instead of choosing old and trite expressions can also improve one’s text and make it much more exciting and engaging. The printed media has many articles that rely on overly used literary devices to save time and energy. Therefore, by trying to create new descriptions and visual connections, an author can distinguish himself or herself from the other creators. The implementation of these rules in political language can also benefit both the audience and the speaker, and it may create a sense of understanding between the two sides.
However, the disadvantages of these rules are also apparent. The strictness of Orwell’s statements does not leave any room for change, which is natural for any language. Orwell insists that language does not need to revert to its old form while trying to preserve its purity from foreign words. Moreover, at some point in the article, the writer insists that he does not want people to treat Saxon words better than any other one. However, it is a distinct contradiction of Orwell’s words, as he wants to “drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words” and change the language back to its previous structure. I think that Orwell does not recognize that any language cannot stay static regardless of people’s control. He is right to believe that people affect the process of language change. However, completely purifying the language from foreign influence is impossible. People have been borrowing words from other nations for centuries, and assimilated phrases and structures do not sound foreign anymore.
Moreover, the rigid approach of Orwell’s statements also makes them less appealing to writers. People are writing news and articles every day. Thus, metaphors and other literary devices become common very fast. The rules of Orwell which prohibit the usage of old figures of speech leave writers without any chances to write anything as they may feel that everything has been said before. Here, one should consider the suggestion of Johnson’s column to make the rules more flexible. It is unnecessary to put so much pressure on the authors by demanding new ideas from them and limiting their use of long words and some additional phrases. By doing that, Orwell exposes himself, proving the point that it is virtually impossible to follow the rules that he created.
If people start using Orwell’s rules in their written and oral speech, the language may change in some ways. Some spheres such as political and scholarly areas of writing can notice the differences right away, as they are filled with inflated and vague phrasing. The impact on the language may be significant as well. While the complete eradication of foreign words is highly unlikely, some terms may lose their popularity, especially words with many simpler synonyms. Sentences may become shorter and easier to read. In my opinion, one cannot follow these guidelines completely, although one can certainly try. Orwell notes that his rules do not have to apply to literary works, which leaves many ways for the literature to preserve its borrowed words and complex structures. Thus, while the language may change in some spheres of life, it will stay as flexible and dynamic as ever.
The analysis of another article from The Economist reveals the validity of points made by Orwell. The first sentence of the text contains the word from French – fusillades (“A Very British Row”). The third sentence contains the word propaganda which has a New Latin origin. Other examples of French words include barrage and sabotage. Latin words are also frequent, including such examples as animus, equivocal, and obsequiously. Most of these words do not have vague meanings, which suggests that the author did not intend to use them to confuse or manipulate the reader in any way. However, some of the terms mentioned above are filled with negative connotations, which may affect the way readers interpret the text.
Such words as propaganda and sabotage are not vague. However, they can be associated with some particular events in people’s minds, which may be considered manipulation. On the other hand, such adjectives and adverbs as equivocal and obsequiously were most likely added to make the article sound more intelligent. The same can be assumed about the use of the word animus in the following phrase: “too boneheaded to conceal their animus against brown people” (“A Very British Row”). Here, the combination of a relatively new slang word “boneheaded” and an old scientific term “animus” seems to be somewhat inconsistent. It is possible that the author was trying to create a discrepancy between the two words to show the subjects of this description in a negative light.
The combination of the words in the first sentence creates a similar display, as “early morning fusillades of gibberish” includes two words that are not usually used together. However, one can interpret this example as an attempt by the author to create a new figure of speech by taking a part of the phrase “fusillade of missiles” and comparing one’s incomprehensible speech to a weapon. Here, the use of such words is more creative than confusing. The author does not want to hide the facts but to show them unusually to engage the reader. While some of the words from the article may influence the reader’s opinion, most of the terms with the French or Latin origin are used to attract and retain the audience.
“A Very British Row – Presidential Tweeting.” The Economist. 2017, Web.
Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. 2015, Web.
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R.L.G. “Johnson: Those Six Little Rules – George Orwell on Writing.” The Economist, 2013, Web.