Politics and the English Language

by

George Orwell

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George Orwell Character Analysis

George Orwell, pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, was a twentieth-century reporter, essayist, and fiction writer. He is the author and narrator of “Politics and the English Language,” in which he attempts to persuade his audience to adopt better reading and writing practices in the name of “political regeneration.” According to Orwell, the broad use “inflated style” normalizes vagueness and wordiness. Once normalized, governments can more easily adopt similar vagueness and wordiness within political communication to cover up their abuses. As an example, Orwell describes the use of the word “pacification” to describe state-sponsored murder. Orwell also claims that the normalization of “inflated style” dumbs down the public, making it easier for nefarious governments to manipulate their citizens. Orwell thus argues that adopting concise prose makes it harder for corrupt governments to exploit and control its citizens. In the conclusion of this essay, Orwell carves out something of an exception for fiction, explaining that his issues with precision and concision don’t apply to a genre which doesn’t attempt to represent the truth. But it’s worth noting that, while Orwell makes no mention of his own work as a fiction writer in this essay, Orwell’s fiction work mirrors the style he outlines in this essay—that is, it’s characterized by concise prose, a preference for concrete language, and simple phrasing.

George Orwell Quotes in Politics and the English Language

The Politics and the English Language quotes below are all either spoken by George Orwell or refer to George Orwell. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Danger of Intellectual Laziness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Politics and the English Language published in 2013.
Politics and the English Language Quotes

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Drinking and Shame
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a ‘party line.’ Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself […] And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better […] Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker), Stuart Chase
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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George Orwell Character Timeline in Politics and the English Language

The timeline below shows where the character George Orwell appears in Politics and the English Language. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Politics and the English Language
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To begin, Orwell outlines three common assumptions. First, that the English language is regularly misused and abused. Second,... (full context)
Then, Orwell draws out a third assumption: that people cannot consciously improve the English language and, thus,... (full context)
The Danger of Intellectual Laziness Theme Icon
Specifically, Orwell compares the relationship between laziness and stupidity with shame and drinking: shame initiates drinking, which... (full context)
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Orwell then takes a step back to clarify the terms of his argument, starting with the... (full context)
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After listing the passages, Orwell points to two elements they all share: “staleness and imagery” and “lack of precision.” Together,... (full context)
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Orwell then goes on to specify four features of bad writing. For each category he provides... (full context)
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First: “dying metaphors.” Orwell defines these as overused and misused phrases meant to invoke an image. For example, Orwell... (full context)
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Second: “operators” or “verbal false limbs.” Orwell defines this category as fluffing up a sentence with “extra syllables.” For example, the use... (full context)
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...to “dress up simple statements” to give the impression of mental soundness. As an example, Orwell points to the excessive use of “foreign words” and political “jargon.” Orwell specifically accuses academics... (full context)
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 Forth: meaningless words or words that lack a clear, concrete definition. Orwell points to words like “values” and “equality.” He warns that meaningless words are “often used... (full context)
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To illustrate bad prose via contrast, Orwell translates a short passage from Ecclesiastes to “modern” English. The result is longer, wordier, and... (full context)
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Before moving on to politics, Orwell summarizes his discussion regarding the features of bad prose. Specifically, he argues that “modern” writing... (full context)
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Orwell then explicitly connects a culture of bad writing to political tyranny. He argues that the... (full context)
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From bad writing more generally, Orwell moves to describe “political writing.” As he describes it, the majority of political communication—“pamphlets, leading... (full context)
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Returning to the concept of a spiral, Orwell argues that, because lazy writing makes the features of manipulation available, even non-political speech has... (full context)
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To illustrate how a bad actor could use “inflated style” to manipulate an audience, Orwell invents a hypothetical character: an English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He then speaks in the... (full context)
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Orwell goes as far as to claim that relying on “readymade” phrases can “anesthetize” the brains... (full context)
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Despite the bad state of communication and politics, Orwell is hopeful that writers and readers can interrupt the cycle of lazy writing and political... (full context)
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To interrupt the cycle of lazy literacy and political evils, Orwell encourages more honesty in communication through more concise prose: the “fewest and shortest words that... (full context)
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Before describing his “rules” for better writing, Orwell notes that improving writing practices isn’t striking out old words from one’s vocabulary or setting... (full context)
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To this end, Orwell provides a series of rules to encourage clarity and concision throughout the writing process. These... (full context)
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Before reaching for a conclusion, Orwell notes the limits of his argument. Explicitly, he argues that his advice does not apply... (full context)
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To conclude, Orwell encourages the reader to “change his own habits” as means to resist government manipulation. After... (full context)