George Orwell’s advice on politics and the English language

“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. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” -George Orwell

So here’s what he suggests:

  • Write with words, not phrases. Writing in phrases lets someone else write for you. Writing in words forces you to be precise, to say what you mean, instead of what’s common.
  • Use their definition (unless you clarify yours for them). Using a common word – like ship or market or life – but applying your own definition is dishonest. It’s a way to talk about one thing while claiming to talk about something else.
  • Make sure your words have meaning, that they pick something out. It’s easier than you might think to throw around words that have no specific meaning behind them, words like love or freedom or idea.
  • Don’t use pretentious diction. Kind of like “diction.”
  • Make up your own metaphors from real life. This goes back to what he said about phrases. Don’t use somebody else’s. Create your own. Be real. It’s harder. That’s why no one does it.

What’s this got to do with politics?

Well, it’s like Orwell said: our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Taken from “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell.

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