Politics and the English Language by George Orwell: A Book Review

politics2Sentence 1 : I had this burning sensation of shame while absorbing myself in this essay.
Sentence 2 : I was ashamed of myself while reading this essay.

Which sentence do you find easier to understand?

This essay is like a simple term paper with objective analyses and conclusions. Or I’d rather say that George Orwell was like a psycho-linguist studying the words we usually use as specimens. First, he presented five passages he picked from articles. Second, he discussed the theories of phraseology. Third, to understand the theories he discusses , he applied them to real situations in modern English. Finally, he drew his own conclusion.

Orwell argued that it is important we write clearly .He believed that the main purpose of writing is to express and share our ideas and thoughts with readers . Also, he pointed out that writing English is worth reading without using metaphors, similes, idioms, or obsolete words which vague the meanings of our sentences. Rather, we can simplify them in the sense that we understand what we really think of a certain thing. He believes, thus, that in doing so can prevent “the slovenliness of our language “as he put it bluntly.

Orwell may have some points. However, affected I am, I want to raise some questions, intentionally to rebut his ideas:

(1) If Orwell believed with the conjunction of other educated grammarians and writers as well that we should not use the words he mentioned in the essay , what are the words coined for? Are we going to throw them into a dust bin? How about the jargons or the technical terms?

(2) The real standard of an award-winning piece is based on the norms drawn by people. What is a universal literature? What is a real classic? How could laymen recognize that a piece is a masterpiece? Everybody has different tastes for literature. For ordinary readers, a simple book is enough. May be for entertainment value. But for readers whose intentions are the same: to develop their intelligence, they elevate literature to a higher level of thinking. That is the art of writing.

(3) Are archaic or obsolete words beyond readers? Probably, it depends on a reader’s intelligence.

(4 ) Why should not we use foreign words? It depends on what kinds of readers a writer targets. Besides, readers are not inside the box; they can explore the world of literature. Literature is flexible in character.

May be I would agree with his points that sometimes we have to consider the meanings of words . Are these words applicable to situations? Probably yes or no. In addition, since language is decadent, there are “times” that we have to adjust to the existing social conditions and changes. Could people still understand them? Probably yes or no.

No doubt. Orwell knew the psychology and mathematics of words. He understood what people think of the words used in society- let alone in politics. So what is this essay all about after all? I would believe that what he really wants to point out in this essay is that connection with readers is the most important elements of writing regardless of what concept you have got. He manifested this belief in his works. Mostly, politics is bad when the language is corrupt as it is the conspicuous undertone of his essays.

If I were George Orwell’s professor, just for fun, I would give it A+, but , in my humble opinion as a reader on GR, I regret to give it 2 stars .


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