Orwell’s bargain on Politics and Language

Orwell’s most famous Essay “Politics and the English Language” has been often celebrated for its directness and harshness, whereas many others have felt quite the opposite considering it similar to an attack on the English language. While Orwell’s passionate words do seem to qualify the essay as an attack, the validity of such claims still remains under debate. Orwell has accused writers of being unimaginative in the use of the English language, choosing to opt for metaphors which are widely known rather than creating new ones. Orwell simply describes this as lazy behavior on part of the writer.

Another complaint he has against the English language is the use of meaningless words. He calls for a return to simplicity. He rejects the use of verbose sentences and is particularly averse to the use of foreign words which have trickled into the English language. He also rejects the use of words which have lost all meaning and do not direct the reader to an idea. His six rules of writing have become the battle cry of many writers who agree with his suggestions. Others, however, are of the view that the entire essay reads like an angry tirade. While he does accuse the English language of becoming too comfortable with certain ideas with a shocking vehemence, he forgets where such behavior may actually be functional. As he rejects the use of verbosity and encourages using simpler words, he overlooks poetry which would be quite dead if stripped down to the use of functional terms.

Orwell may be one of the greatest writers to have lived and his writing preferences and style were quite definitely beyond par, but his writing, as beautiful as it may be, does not quite serve as a standard for all English language use. In fact, it may be observed in his works that he breaks the very rules he has so vehemently set in his essay. While he rejects the use of passive in lieu of active, he has done so in his texts on many occasions. In addition when he confronts the English language or its use of foreign terminology, he fails to see that not all words have exact English synonyms. While a word may retain a similar meaning it will lose its essence. The most egregious crime in his opinion however is that of political literature. He accuses politics of pulling English downwards as it descends itself and deems political pamphlets and documents to be particularly incriminating. As Orwell sets down these rules, he does not take the time to explain to the reader why these particular rules are set or how they will serve the English language in a better manner. No other reason for his disdain of the current common use of the English language has been provided. The last rule that he sets out in his essay, however, redeems him of any accusations that he has set forth.

“Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Here he states that there can’t be any rules applied to the English language rendering the above redundant. On this front, we cannot further oppose Orwell.


Source of Image: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell

Main Source: http://orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit