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Politics And The English Language

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George Orwell’s Five Greatest Essays (as Selected by Pulitzer-Prize Winning Columnist Michael Hiltzik)

in English Language , Literature , Politics | November 12th, 2013 8 Comments

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Every time I’ve taught George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay on mis­lead­ing, smudgy writ­ing, “ Pol­i­tics and the Eng­lish Lan­guage ,” to a group of under­grad­u­ates, we’ve delight­ed in point­ing out the num­ber of times Orwell vio­lates his own rules—indulges some form of vague, “pre­ten­tious” dic­tion, slips into unnec­es­sary pas­sive voice, etc.  It’s a pet­ty exer­cise, and Orwell him­self pro­vides an escape clause for his list of rules for writ­ing clear Eng­lish: “Break any of these rules soon­er than say any­thing out­right bar­barous.” But it has made us all feel slight­ly bet­ter for hav­ing our writ­ing crutch­es pushed out from under us.

Orwell’s essay, writes the L.A. Times ’ Pulitzer-Prize win­ning colum­nist Michael Hiltzik , “stands as the finest decon­struc­tion of sloven­ly writ­ing since Mark Twain’s “ Fen­i­more Cooper’s Lit­er­ary Offens­es .” Where Twain’s essay takes on a pre­ten­tious aca­d­e­m­ic estab­lish­ment that unthink­ing­ly ele­vates bad writ­ing, “Orwell makes the con­nec­tion between degrad­ed lan­guage and polit­i­cal deceit (at both ends of the polit­i­cal spec­trum).” With this con­cise descrip­tion, Hiltzik begins his list of Orwell’s five great­est essays, each one a bul­wark against some form of emp­ty polit­i­cal lan­guage, and the often bru­tal effects of its “pure wind.”

One spe­cif­ic exam­ple of the lat­ter comes next on Hiltzak’s list  (actu­al­ly a series he has pub­lished over the month) in Orwell’s 1949 essay on Gand­hi. The piece clear­ly names the abus­es of the impe­r­i­al British occu­piers of India, even as it strug­gles against the can­on­iza­tion of Gand­hi the man, con­clud­ing equiv­o­cal­ly that “his char­ac­ter was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly a mixed one, but there was almost noth­ing in it that you can put your fin­ger on and call bad.” Orwell is less ambiva­lent in Hiltzak’s third choice , the spiky 1946 defense of Eng­lish com­ic writer P.G. Wode­house , whose behav­ior after his cap­ture dur­ing the Sec­ond World War under­stand­ably baf­fled and incensed the British pub­lic. The last two essays on the list, “ You and the Atom­ic Bomb ” from 1945 and the ear­ly “ A Hang­ing ,” pub­lished in 1931, round out Orwell’s pre- and post-war writ­ing as a polemi­cist and clear-sight­ed polit­i­cal writer of con­vic­tion. Find all five essays free online at the links below. And find some of Orwell’s great­est works in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks .

1. “ Pol­i­tics and the Eng­lish Lan­guage ”

2. “ Reflec­tions on Gand­hi ”

3. “ In Defense of P.G. Wode­house ”

4. “ You and the Atom­ic Bomb ”

5. “ A Hang­ing ”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s 1984: Free eBook, Audio Book & Study Resources

The Only Known Footage of George Orwell (Cir­ca 1921)

George Orwell and Dou­glas Adams Explain How to Make a Prop­er Cup of Tea

Josh Jones  is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at  @jdmagness

by Josh Jones | Permalink | Comments (8) |

orwell 1946 essay

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Comments (8), 8 comments so far.

You can’t go wrong with Orwell, so I feel bad about com­plain­ing. But how is “Shoot­ing an Ele­phant” not on here?!?!

YES. Total­ly agree!

And “Down and Out in Paris and Lon­don” is one of the best com­ments on home­less­ness EVER!

Good arti­cle. In this selec­tion of essays, he ranges from reflec­tions on his boy­hood school­ing and the pro­fes­sion of writ­ing to his views on the Span­ish Civ­il War and British impe­ri­al­ism. The pieces col­lect­ed here include the rel­a­tive­ly unfa­mil­iar and the more cel­e­brat­ed, mak­ing it an ide­al com­pi­la­tion for both new and ded­i­cat­ed read­ers of Orwell’s work.nnhttp://essay-writing-company-reviews.essayboards.com/

Very thought pro­vok­ing

i am crud­butt

i am crud­butt!

I think Orwell would have been irri­tat­ed at your use of how instead of why.

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George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language'

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George Orwell published his famous essay "Politics and the English Language" in 1946, and we mostly wish he hadn't.

Hosted by Emily Brewster, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.

Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.

Download the episode here .

Emily Brewster: Coming up on Word Matters, things get Orwellian in the narrowest sense of the word. I'm Emily Brewster, and Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media. On each episode, Merriam-Webster editors Ammon Shea, Peter Sokolowski, and I explore some aspect of the English language from the dictionary's vantage point. In 1946, George Orwell published his now-famous essay, "Politics and the English Language." Ammon sincerely wishes he hadn't.

Ammon Shea: One of the questions I feel like when you work in dictionaries that you often get from people, is that people always want to know what words are there that you hate, or that one hates or would banish from the language, and what words do you like. I feel like most lexicographers I know are pretty studious in trying to avoid having favorites or certainly about having dis-favorite words. But what I do have a distaste for is writings about words. My least favorite words are just peeves about language. I have to say perhaps foremost among my personal peeves is a piece of writing that is beloved by many. I like to think this is not just my contrarian nature that makes it so despised by me. It's that I think it's a bad piece of writing. I am speaking, of course, of George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Have you two feelings on this?

Peter Sokolowski: I've only just read it recently. It's one of those things that is referred to so frequently. I'm embarrassed to say, I don't think I ever studied it in school, so I took some of it kind of secondhand, for granted, the way lots of intellectual movements, someone didn't have to study Derrida to know what deconstruction is or to at least know that word is used often by other people. So I often took this to be a reference to the idea that politicians use words in a deliberately manipulative way. So I took it not as a linguistic document at all, but as a more philosophical or a political idea. I usually saw it in the context of names of political parties or movements or laws, something like the Clean Air Act, which I think was criticized for also helping fossil fuels. So people said, "Well, that's Orwellian," because you call it one thing but you really mean something else. So I interpreted it in that very filtered way through the culture.

Emily Brewster: I think I read it about five years after I read ) Animal Farm , so Animal Farm , eighth grade; freshman year of college maybe, "Politics and the English Language." I think I loved them both and believed them both completely. Thought they were just both absolutely brilliant. I didn't actually read this 1946 essay again until last night. I see some problems with Orwell's assertions at this stage, but I can also defend some of them, so.

Ammon Shea: Okay, great. What is this if not an argument. As you pointed out, it was published in 1946. It came out in the journal, "Horizon." When we talk about this particular essay, it is always important to note, and right at the beginning, that Orwell himself is claiming that he's not speaking about language in general. He's talking about political language, the language used by politicians. He specifically says, "I have not here been considering the literary use of language." If we're generous, we can give him that, but I think it's kind of a dodge because I feel like he does kind of broaden his scope. But also I feel like one of the things that has happened with this particular essay is that it is used as kind of a club by many people today in talking about language, and it is almost never used in the context of political language. People just talk out Orwell's views on English, and they don't say, "This is what Orwell had to say about politicians using the language. It's just used as a kind of general thing."

Ammon Shea: To me, one of the main problems is that Orwell seems to have very little idea of how language in general and English in particular actually works. It almost is farcically bad. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking, "Oh, this must be great. He's laying down these rules." We all love rules. We want rules about language. We want language to make sense. It feels very comforting to think that these are concrete steps that I can take to make my language use better, but they're not true. To say that the messenger is flawed is really being over-kind.

Emily Brewster: What does he say that's not true?

Ammon Shea: Well, he has a lot of things about, "Use short words. Never use a long word where a short word will do," which is this longstanding bugaboo with many people. Before Fowler wrote Modern English Usage , his famous book in 1926, he wrote a book with his brother, The King's English . They said you should always prefer the Saxon word to the Romance. E.B. White in The Elements of Style actually wrote, "Anglo-Saxon is a livelier tongue than Latin so use Anglo-Saxon words." Winston Churchill is quoted, whether he said it or not, as saying, "Short words are best, and the old words, when short are best of all." We've long had this feeling that you should go with the short Anglo-Saxon words rather than these fancy, flowery, long Latin words, which to me is just kind of a silly thing to say. I like long words, and when long words are appropriate, they're totally fine. So I think saying, "Never use a long word when a short one will do," is a little bit awkward considering that Orwell uses plenty of long words.

Emily Brewster: I'm looking at the essay. In the second paragraph he uses the word slovenliness . There's some significant letters in there.

Ammon Shea: What he's very good at doing, though, is breaking his own rule in the same sentence that he gives it. In this particular essay, he says, "There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly to be got rid of." This is the section where he says, "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." Fly-blown is, of course, a metaphor. Unless the actual words here have the larva of flies growing out of them, they are not actually a fly-blown metaphor. They're metaphorical metaphors that he's talking about. The essay also has plenty of similes: "like cavalry horses answering the bugle," "a mass of Latin words," "falls upon the facts like soft snow." He talks about like a cuttlefish spreading out ink. He uses these similes and metaphors liberally. So it's kind of odd to me that he exhorts us to not use them. I think perhaps his most egregious mistake is when he says, "Never use the passive voice where you can use the active."

Emily Brewster: Except, Ammon, he doesn't say it like that. This stuck out to me also. He says-

Ammon Shea: It's the very first sentence. "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way," and then he says, "it is generally assumed," passive voice here, "that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it." He's using the passive voice to tell you not to use the passive voice. So either he doesn't believe his own advice, or he doesn't understand it.

Emily Brewster: Then later in the same essay, he says, "In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active." That itself is in the passive voice. "The passive voice is used," not "writers used the passive voice." Just to refresh people, if you wanted to say "the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active," you would say "writers use the passive voice wherever possible, rather than preferring the active voice." So he is actively doing the things he says writers should not do in his own writing over and over again.

Ammon Shea: He does it in almost all cases. In fact, some people connected with language have found fault with this essay over the years. My favorite was, some while ago, some people went through and actually counted the number of instances in which he used the passive rather than the active voice and found that he was about twice as much as your average college essay at the time. He's using it in 20% of the cases as opposed to 10% of the time when people usually use it in this setting.

Emily Brewster: Wow.

Ammon Shea: He says, "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent." He gives a list of phrases to avoid: deus ex machina , mutatis mutandis , status quo , ancien régime . If you go through any of his writing, he uses most of these in his other writings. He doesn't actually use them in this essay. So this is one that he's not okay with, but he does use them regularly. Overall, my favorite is his sixth rule, which is "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." I like this so much because it is the one rule that he actually adheres to in his own writing. He breaks all of his own rules so much that it raises the question of why he thought that this should happened in the first place.

Peter Sokolowski: To me, it's the first sentence of the second paragraph that caught my eye because he identifies himself as being a member of a kind of club and invites us to join that club. He says, "Now it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes." Now, first of all, I don't think that's clear at all. Second of all, he's announcing himself as declinist, that "kids today" basically is what he's saying and that "everything must be worse today because I remember when it was better." That is basically the same exact argument we hear all the time. It's the exact same argument that was put against Webster's Third . It's declinism. It's that everything is going to pot and everything is terrible. The weird thing about Orwell is that he makes the same mistake that everyone with a declinist argument makes, which is that he expects language to provide logic. That's just not how writing works. He insists that the decadent culture has produced a collapse of language and that that collapsed language then perpetuates this decline, which is an intellectual race to the bottom, which was exactly the argument against Webster's Third , blaming the dictionary for a perceived drop in quality of standardized test results or something. But the difference is he often seems to be blaming the words rather than the writing.

Ammon Shea: I think he does blame the words rather than writing. He also thinks that if we all just steel ourselves, we can change this. We can stem the flow of bad language by just being conscious of the words that we use. We're going to set a good example. There's a great point in this where he talks about how "the jeers of a few journalists" have done away with a number of phrases that he doesn't like, like "explore every avenue" and "leave no stone unturned." I think he's really overstating the effect that jeers of a few journalists can have on the language use of hundreds of millions of people. If you look at "explore every avenue" and "leave no stone unturned," in the decades following the 1940s, they actually increased dramatically. They're not going away. If they did go away, it wouldn't be because a few journalists like George Orwell jeered at them. It would be because people just stopped using these phrases.

Emily Brewster: You're listening to Word Matters. I'm Emily Brewster. We'll be right back with more on Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media.

Peter Sokolowski: Word Matters listeners get 25% off all dictionaries and books at shop.merriam-webster.com by using the promo code "matters" at checkout. That's "matters," M-A-T-T-E-R-S at shop.merriam-webster.com.

Ammon Shea: I'm Ammon Shea. Do you have a question about the origin, history, or meaning of a word? Email us at [email protected].

Peter Sokolowski: I'm Peter Sokolowski. Join me every day for the Word of the Day, a brief look at the history and definition of one word, available at merriam-webster.com or wherever you get your podcasts. For more podcasts from New England Public Media, visit the NEPM podcast hub at nepm.org.

Emily Brewster: The conversation about George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" continues. I do think, though, that the writing that he objects to, and he starts out by giving five examples I think, it is bad writing. He is pointing out that there are real problems. Here is his first example, which I found just mind-numbing. It was by Professor Harold Lasky. The example says, "I am not indeed sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a 17th century Shelley had not become out of an experience ever more bitter in each year more alien to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate." I'm really good at reading opaque text, and this is really, really hard to follow.

Ammon Shea: I agree with you, absolutely. But I would point out that almost nothing in that would be fixed by any of the rules in Orwell's essay. He's using lots of short Saxon words in that piece. He's not using any metaphors or similes that I can see of. He's not using foreign expressions or phrases. I agree. That is a horrible piece of writing. I would not myself enjoy reading writing like that. Anyway, I'm with Orwell when he says that there is some bad writing out there, when he says there's bad political writing. Absolutely. But I feel that what he's kind of saying is let's make it better. Sure, I agree with that. That's where my agreement ends.

Emily Brewster: You agree with none of his advice?

Ammon Shea: I kind of agree with some of it a little bit. If it's possible to cut a word out, always cut it out? No, I don't agree with that. I think that's just a stylistic difference. I think if you look at writing in the 19th century, it's different than writing in the 20th century. It's just stylistically changed. I don't think that one is better for length than the other, or one is better for its brevity than the other.

Emily Brewster: I also have a problem with these kind of absolute statements: never use the passive voice, always use the fewest words possible. I think any kinds of absolutes are problematic. To always avoid any particular thing in writing is unhelpfully narrowing.

Ammon Shea: A great example of this kind of absolutism gone wrong is, we're all familiar with the "never end a sentence with a preposition." Of course, that's a meaningless thing. We end sentences with a preposition all the time. A lot of times the sentence construction demands ending a sentence with a preposition. Terminal prepositions are fine even though we've been hearing for hundreds of years that they're not. Every once in a while, somebody will come up with a variant on that. I used to occasionally see the rule in old uses books, "never end a sentence with a preposition or some other less meaningful word or insignificant word," I think was the way that they used to phrase it.

Ammon Shea: We're starting to make a little more sense if you don't want to end a sentence with a little blip, if you don't want to end your sentence with "of." Now, I don't think of prepositions as less meaningful or less significant personally, but that's just me. But I could see if somebody had the exhortation to end your sentence on an emphatic, meaningful, significant word, it's fine with me. I like that as a general rule of advice. But when you turn that into "Don't end it with a word that's less meaningful or significant," and that somehow becomes "Don't end it with a preposition or don't end it with this kind of thing," that's the kind of absolutism that just doesn't carry water.

Emily Brewster: This makes me think about the motivation for writing an essay such as this and the motivation for sharing an essay like this. This essay was written a long time ago now, in 1946. It is still something that people are talking about and are using in the aid of their own writing, and to try to get other people to be better writers. There is a desire among users of the English language to do that better, to become a better writer, and clearly Orwell thought that he had some important things as a skilled writer. This man was clearly a skilled writer of the English language. He published books. He knew how to use the English language. He was an expert in language use as much as anyone else who writes so many books or spend so much time using language. Any native speaker is actually also an expert. But he had a very specific kind of expertise, and he wanted to share this expertise with people. But he generalized his own expertise in a way that, as you point out, Ammon, was not even an accurate assessment of his own use. Why did he do that? What was he thinking?

Ammon Shea: I don't know why Orwell would write this. The lack of introspection here is stunning to me in that it comes up again and again and again. In the section on "Never use a long word where a short word one will do," he almost immediately says, "A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has got..." This phraseology? That's a pretty damn long word there. I'm sure I could cut phraseology down by at least two or three syllables. Shorter than phraseology? I don't know why he was so lacking in introspection about his own writing.

Ammon Shea: I do think I know why people are still so adamant in sharing this because I think people just want tools. They want to reduce this glorious mess that is English to a series of concrete steps that you can take to make it definably better. Should I use a long word? Never. How about, should I use this simile that I know? Never. These are things that you can say to yourself. When should I use a simile that I'm used to seeing in print? You should never a simile. No, I'm going to never use a simile, and my writing will therefore be better. But I don't think that language responds well to this kind of absolutism. It gives us a sense of comfort. It must be better because I'm following these rules that were set down in the journal, Horizon, and that our results will be better. I don't think that's the way that it works.

Peter Sokolowski: He's completely ignorant on matters of the scientific study of language, on what we would call linguistics. He's not a linguist, but he's a good writer. That is the problem here, which is that so many people and especially declinists or language change deniers, people who say "kids today," they often want language to be like math. They want it to be logical, and they want to find a formula. I think what this all points to for me is that good prose style is much more art than science, and it requires, dare I say it, humanities exposure, the kind of general exposure to good writing and lots of it that you can only get if you read a lot. That's really the club to join. Join the readers who then can identify, "Oh, yes. That is a nicely turned phrase."

Peter Sokolowski: The fact is Orwell writes this in 1946, and he has nothing but contempt and scorn for all political discourse. Yet, he's within a couple of years of Churchill saying, "We shall meet them on the beaches. We shall meet them on the landing grounds." He's within a couple of years of FDR saying, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Some of the greatest political utterances in the history of the language were made just a couple of years before this essay was written. So he's kind of deliberately putting his thumb on the scale, which is what a lot of essayists do. He's got the right reflex but the wrong tools. He's not equipped to help others write. All he really is doing is listing his peeves.

Emily Brewster: But Peter, of those examples that you cite, Churchill and FDR, I think Orwell would have given the thumbs up to. He would've said, "Yes, these are good examples."

Ammon Shea: But those are following his rules. There is something to be said for that. Those are well written, and I think they're very effective particularly as political discourse. Again, if we're going to be kind to Orwell we can say that, yes, a lot of what he's saying will apply to the current political language that was being used.

Ammon Shea: Something that Peter said a few minutes ago, and I'm going to disagree with that, which is that you said, "People want language to be like math." I think in some ways they do, but actually I think people want language to be like religion more than they want it to be like math. There's a comfort that people get from certain religious structures that some other people try to get from certain linguistic structures, that there are things which are done by the righteous, and there are things that are done by the unrighteous in a way. And that a lack of adherence to this set of structure betokens a lack of moral fiber in a way because we make these value judgments of people based on their language use which have nothing to do with anything a lot of the time. It's not a one-to-one comparison between religion and language, but I am often reminded of religious fervor when I hear the way that certain people talk about how language use should be.

Peter Sokolowski: A big part of the conversations that we've all had with members of the public or strangers, people who correspond with a dictionary in one way or another, is some kind of membership of a club. "You care about language in the way that I do." There is absolutely a huge moral component that is imposed upon that. We always are judging others by their use of language. We are always judged by our use of language, by the way we spell, by the way we pronounce words. That's just a simple human fact. It's easier for us as professionals to separate that from culture.

Peter Sokolowski: So what you just said, Ammon, which is so true, which is that these things have nothing to do with drawing moral conclusions, whether you end a sentence with a preposition or whether you don't put an apostrophe in "you're." Yet, it becomes a shorthand for the kind of person that I want to know or the kind of person that I grew up with or the kind of person my parents raised me to be. That's very extra-linguistic, isn't it? That's why I think, Ammon, your analysis is brilliant. That takes you into something like religion, like culture, that goes way beyond what a language can do, but we extrapolate so much from it.

Emily Brewster: Language does indeed do that. It is one of the things that a language does, the different ways that language are used. It generates these in-groups and out-groups. But I think it is really important to reflect back on that and to recognize that good grammar does not mean ethical. You can have by-the-book grammar and never conjugate a verb incorrectly and be a horribly unethical person. That is wholly possible.

Peter Sokolowski: Exactly.

Ammon Shea: If we go back to Orwell, I don't want to be too harsh in my assessment of him, though I don't think he had any business writing about language, but this was just an essay that he wrote. I think the real problem here was that it's been then kept alive by other people who are trying to turn it into something that it's not and that it's not equipped to handle. I think insofar as these kinds of exhortatory writing advice pieces go, I'm willing to go as far as "you should write better; you should consider your language; you should write carefully." I think these are all fine things to say. I start to shut down when I see the linguistic absolutism: "never do this," and "never do that." There are very few cases that I can think of in which you should never do something. I'm not going to say you should never, of course, because that would contraindicate myself. But there are very few cases in which I would feel comfortable saying, "Never do this."

Peter Sokolowski: If you remove politics from this essay, I find it hard to distinguish it from Strunk & White, another famous book that also offers advice that is poorly constructed from a linguistics point of view.

Ammon Shea: I think there are a lot of problems with Strunk & White, but I feel that Strunk & White is actually more forgiving than this. I mean, Strunk & White, I don't think they say things like, "Never start a sentence with 'and' and 'but.'" They actually have some flexibility, not much. I think Strunk & White is a horrible, dated document that should be burned in a trash heap. It's not as bad as this.

Peter Sokolowski: I can't help but quote our friend Geoffrey Pullum, the great grammarian who refers to Strunk & White as "a toxic little compendium of nonsense."

Ammon Shea: Yes.

Emily Brewster: Yes, and "grammarian," as in a linguist.

Peter Sokolowski: A linguist and professor of grammar and author of maybe the definitive grammar of the English language today but also someone who has a great flare.

Emily Brewster: Yeah, that's a fantastic quote. The reason that this essay, of course, has been promulgated and is the reason we are talking about it today is because people are still talking about it, because people still want guidance on how to write better. I am wondering, Ammon, as a writer, how do you think people should learn to write better? Putting aside, for a minute, the writers who think that they have all this advice to offer to the rest of us, how should people who want to improve their writing do so?

Ammon Shea: Read more. Read writers you like is the way to go about it. For me, one of the main issues with a lot of the standard writing books is even writers that we enjoy, like many people enjoy Stephen King, I think he has some fine characteristics in his writing. When he starts giving writing advice, he had this great passage where he talked about all the times you shouldn't use adverbs. People went through and found dozens and dozens of adverbs in the page that he was talking about, "you shouldn't use adverbs in your writing." It quickly became apparent that he didn't really know what an adverb was in a lot of cases. That kind of writing advice, I think, doesn't work.

Ammon Shea: Now, I know a number of other writers who have read Stephen King and talked about the way that they've been influenced by his writing, the ways that he develops plot, maybe his character development, any number of things, which he does phenomenally well. I think that's a great way to learn writing. If for nothing else, one of my biggest peeves about this kind of language writing is that almost inevitably it is focusing on the negative. Why when we hear people say, "Oh, I care about language," why is that so often synonymous with saying, "I like to talk trash about the way that other people use language"? Why, when people say, "I care about language and let me share with you some of the things that I think are really beautiful about it. These are some fine examples of well-turned phrases," why is that so infrequently something that we come across?

Ammon Shea: I think if you care about language, if you love language, you should be embracing the kind of delectability of it, the fine use of language. Look at some of the nice ones. There's so much beautiful language around us that I think we're really doing ourselves a disservice, not to mention the people who have to listen to us, but doing them a much greater disservice if all we do is focus on the negative.

Emily Brewster: That's totally true. But it's easier to point out the ugliness than it is to quote the sublime. There is gorgeous writing out there that can just be staggering. I think the other thing is that if you want to improve your writing, it's really nice to think that there are some distinct steps that you can take that will then result in you being an improved writer. That's really comforting and much simpler than read, read, read, read, read, read good writers, read over and over and over again, and identify things you really like, and then read something aloud that you have written and see how it feels.

Emily Brewster: Writing well is not about following distinct steps. It's about getting a feel for it. It is an art form. But the really tricky thing about it is that we all use language. Painters have paint as their territory. That's their medium. I don't even have to dabble in it. I mean I paint my bathroom, whatever. I don't have mastery, and I don't think that I have mastery of paint at all, and I don't need to. But as a speaker of English and as somebody who has to write an occasional email or whatever, even if I weren't a lexicographer, all of us, as native speakers, we use this tool, and then some people use it professionally. It's a very tricky territory. Some people use it artistically, and some people use it solely for jargon, and some people use it for political purposes. We need the language to do so much, and it does do all these different things.

Emily Brewster: To get really good at writing creatively or writing in a way that moves people or that convinces people, it feels like it should be simple because you know the tools, you know the words, you know the prepositions, you know the basic sentence structure. But to actually do it in a way that is compelling takes a lot of practice.

Emily Brewster: Let us know what you think about Word Matters. Review us wherever you get your podcasts or email us at [email protected]. You can also visit us at nepm.org. For the Word of the Day and all your general and dictionary needs, visit merriam-webster.com. Our theme music is by Tobias Voigt, artwork by Annie Jacobson. Word Matters is produced by John Voci. For Ammon Shea and Peter Sokolowski, I'm Emily Brewster. Word Matters is produced by Merriam-Webster in collaboration with New England Public Media.

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Interesting Literature

The Best George Orwell Essays Everyone Should Read

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

George Orwell (1903-50) is known around the world for his satirical novella Animal Farm and his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four , but he was arguably at his best in the essay form. Below, we’ve selected and introduced ten of Orwell’s best essays for the interested newcomer to his non-fiction, but there are many more we could have added. What do you think is George Orwell’s greatest essay?

1. ‘ Why I Write ’.

This 1946 essay is notable for at least two reasons: one, it gives us a neat little autobiography detailing Orwell’s development as a writer; and two, it includes four ‘motives for writing’ which break down as egoism (wanting to seem clever), aesthetic enthusiasm (taking delight in the sounds of words etc.), the historical impulse (wanting to record things for posterity), and the political purpose (wanting to ‘push the world in a certain direction’).

2. ‘ Politics and the English Language ’.

The English language is ‘in a bad way’, Orwell argues in this famous essay from 1946. As its title suggests, Orwell identifies a link between the (degraded) English language of his time and the degraded political situation: Orwell sees modern political discourse as being less a matter of words chosen for their clear meanings than a series of stock phrases slung together.

Orwell concludes with six rules or guidelines for political writers and essayists, which include: never use a long word when a short one will do, or a specialist or foreign term when a simpler English one should suffice.

We have analysed this classic essay here .

3. ‘ Shooting an Elephant ’.

This is an early Orwell essay, from 1936. In it, he recalls his (possibly fictionalised) experiences as a police officer in Burma, when he had to shoot an elephant that had got out of hand. Orwell extrapolates from this one event, seeing it as a microcosm of imperialism, wherein the coloniser loses his humanity and freedom through oppressing others.

We have analysed this essay here .

4. ‘ Decline of the English Murder ’.

In this 1946 essay, Orwell writes about the British fascination with murder, focusing in particular on the period of 1850-1925, which Orwell identifies as the golden age or ‘great period in murder’ in the media and literature. But what has happened to murder in the British newspapers?

Orwell claims that the Second World War has desensitised people to brutal acts of killing, but also that there is less style and art in modern murders. Oscar Wilde would no doubt agree with Orwell’s point of view!

5. ‘ Confessions of a Book Reviewer ’.

This 1946 essay makes book-reviewing as a profession or trade – something that seems so appealing and aspirational to many book-lovers – look like a life of drudgery. Why, Orwell asks, does virtually every book that’s published have to be reviewed? It would be best, he argues, to be more discriminating and devote more column inches to the most deserving of books.

6. ‘ A Hanging ’.

This is another Burmese recollection from Orwell, and a very early work, dating from 1931. Orwell describes a condemned criminal being executed by hanging, using this event as a way in to thinking about capital punishment and how, as Orwell put it elsewhere, a premeditated execution can seem more inhumane than a thousand murders.

We discuss this Orwell essay in more detail here .

7. ‘ The Lion and the Unicorn ’.

Subtitled ‘Socialism and the English Genius’, this is another essay Orwell wrote about Britain in the wake of the outbreak of the Second World War. Published in 1941, this essay takes its title from the heraldic symbols for England (the lion) and Scotland (the unicorn). Orwell argues that some sort of socialist revolution is needed to wrest Britain out of its outmoded ways and an overhaul of the British class system will help Britain to defeat the Nazis.

The long essay contains a section, ‘England Your England’, which is often reprinted as a standalone essay, written as the German bomber planes were whizzing overhead during the Blitz of 1941. This part of the essay is a critique of blind English patriotism during wartime and an attempt to pin down ‘English’ values at a time when England itself was under threat from Nazi invasion.

8. ‘ My Country Right or Left ’.

This 1940 essay shows what a complex and nuanced thinker Orwell was when it came to political labels such as ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’. Although Orwell was on the left, he also held patriotic (although not exactly fervently nationalistic) attitudes towards England which many of his comrades on the left found baffling.

As with ‘England Your England’ above, the wartime context is central to Orwell’s argument, and lends his discussion of the relationship between left-wing politics and patriotic values an urgency and immediacy.

9. ‘ Bookshop Memories ’.

As well as writing on politics and being a writer, Orwell also wrote perceptively about readers and book-buyers – as in this 1936 essay, published the same year as his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying , which combined both bookshops and writers (the novel focuses on Gordon Comstock, an aspiring poet).

In ‘Bookshop Memories’, reflecting on his own time working as an assistant in a bookshop, Orwell divides those who haunt bookshops into various types: the snobs after a first edition, the Oriental students, and so on.

10. ‘ A Nice Cup of Tea ’.

Orwell didn’t just write about literature and politics. He also wrote about things like the perfect pub, and how to make the best cup of tea, for the London Evening Standard in the late 1940s. Here, in this essay from 1946, Orwell offers eleven ‘golden rules’ for making a tasty cuppa, arguing that people disagree vehemently how to make a perfect cup of tea because it is one of the ‘mainstays of civilisation’. Hear, hear.

3 thoughts on “The Best George Orwell Essays Everyone Should Read”

Thanks, Orwell was a master at combining wisdom and readability. I also like his essay on Edward Lear, although some of his observations are very much of their time: https://edwardleartrail.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/george-orwell-on-edward-lear/

The Everyman edition of Orwell’s essays (1200 pages !) is my desert island book. I like Shooting the Elephant altho Julian Barnes seems to believe this is fictitious. Is this still a live debate ?

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Guest Essay

When Language Fails Us and the Moment

A dictionary from which a large portion of the center has been removed, leaving a round hole almost like a doughnut.

By Robert Pinsky

Mr. Pinsky, the U.S. poet laureate from 1997 to 2000, is a professor at Boston University.

A writer I admire expresses in a few words his disdain for plausible but empty political language, beginning with one good example. “The word ‘fascism,’” he writes, “has now no meaning except insofar as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” He adds other exhausted words, including “democracy,” “freedom” and “patriotic” — convenient terms for establishing righteousness, easily melting into self-righteousness.

The writer is George Orwell, in his celebrated 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell contended that language had become corrupt and debased in his time, but the survival of his examples into the present contradicts him, suggesting that not only the problem but the very examples may be timeless.

Plain, direct language remains rare and desirable — and risky in ways that authority, even more than the rest of us, tries to avoid.

In a recent kerfuffle, a politician asked three university presidents if a call for the genocide of Jews would violate the codes against bullying and harassment at their schools. The responses to that question — almost identical — have been condemned as canned, legalistic, evasive, bland, jargon-ridden and possibly antisemitic.

OK then, I have asked myself: What would have been better than that cautious baloney? What would you do?

In the spirit of Orwell, maybe criticize the interrogator’s language? Something like: “Congresswoman, on my campus we take bullying and harassment quite seriously, with enforced rules against them, but I am shocked that you put those behaviors in the same sentence as a word meaning the systematic extermination of an entire population. How can you compare the meaning of that word, with its ongoing murderous history, to unacceptable behavior on our campus?”

That fantasy of a response — maybe not bad, certainly not great — shows some of the difficulties that might be faced by a follower of Orwell.

In his essay, Orwell quotes from the great 17th-century English translation of some lines in Ecclesiastes: “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise,” which he converts into modern English: “Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity.”

“A parody,” Orwell calls his transformation, “but not a very gross one.”

Not long ago, I showed that passage to an intelligent, well-educated person much younger than I am. He understood Orwell’s intention, but he confessed that he found the parody, with its colorless polysyllables, easier to understand — he might have said “more accessible” — than the plain words of the original. It felt better to him than the original.

Dilution of meaning is familiar in a way that can make us feel comfortable or, even worse, comfortably righteous. That’s a feeling the university presidents or their scriptwriters might have hoped to invoke. The reliably available terms of disapproval and approval — “genocide” and “patriotism,” “antisemitism” and “democracy” — convey large scale and importance but sometimes while avoiding the heavy cost of paying actual attention. The more important the word, the more its meaning may be a matter of degree, from not much to quite a lot. The attainment of meaning requires work. The more important the meaning, the harder the work. Language is haunted.

Here are a few Jewish examples — wisps of meaning not to condemn but to recognize:

The word “antisemitism” in the spelling I just used, without a hyphen, is considered preferable because “anti-semitism” or, even worse, “anti-Semitism” implies the legitimacy of a discredited, racialist set of ideas, an old quasi-scholarly notion of Semitic with a capital S from the same swamp as “Aryan.” Even the hyphen, that minimal blip of punctuation, conveys into the present its little cargo of historical ghosts and violations.

I never see anymore the phrase “Jews and minorities.” Good riddance to those well-meaning words that used to give me, along with others in the roughly 2.4 percent of the U.S. adult population who are Jews ( 0.2 percent of the world ), a wincing chuckle. Even the legitimate, standard-issue phrase “people of color” raises its teeny backwash. Possibly, some people who use it don’t realize that Jews were not white people in our country until recently — thus, at some point, neither white nor of color.

Certainly there have been times and places we were not white, recent and nearby. Around 1970, when I lived in the town of Wellesley, Mass., as a college teacher, my family and I occupied faculty housing. Thanks to that fringe benefit, we didn’t need to worry that at least some of Wellesley’s residential neighborhoods were said to be restricted by a real estate provision that forbade selling a house to Jews. That kind of covert agreement was called a covenant — a biblical-sounding term that asserted a weirdly powerful, absurd authority. Even the expression a Black or brown or Asian person might use about positions of authority — “I’d like to see someone in that office who looks like me” — can cause a queasy twinge at the word “looks.” Stereotypes of “looking Jewish” are repellent, the stuff of Nazi propaganda. And please don’t tell us we are smarter than other people. (I’m always tempted to answer that one with, “You’ve never met my cousin Barney.”)

One of the first pieces of academic mail I received as a young professor informed me that the trustees had amended Wellesley College’s charter, so that faculty members were no longer required to be Christian men and women. “Phew,” I could joke to myself, “just in time.”

In the haunted house of our language, surrounded by desperate fogs of disapproval and righteousness, a flicker of comedy may signal a step in the right direction. Not to forbid the ghosts but to check them out.

Robert Pinsky is the author of “Jersey Breaks” and teaches in the creative writing program at Boston University.

Source photograph by PhotoMelon/Getty Images.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Contending Modernities

Exploring how religious and secular forces interact in the modern world.

Global Currents article

George orwell, gaza, and “the debasement of language”.

orwell 1946 essay

“Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” George Orwell wrote these words, which come at the end of his essay “Politics and the English Language,” in 1946. He could be writing them from the grave today and thinking of ways in which language is being used in the context of the so-called “Israel-Gaza war.” “In our time,” Orwell says, “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He is not alluding to falsehoods or fallacies, but to words and phrases that keep us from the facts, or from the effect the facts would otherwise have on us. His essay is about “debased language”: language that defends the indefensible by preventing us from thinking.

Day after day, as Israel has laid waste to Gaza, unspeakable atrocities have been spoken about in language that robs them of their horror. Israel’s relentless devastation of Gaza, the destruction of 40% of homes in the strip (at the time of writing), as well as hospitals and infrastructure, the blockade on fuel and electricity and other vital services, the killing, the maiming, the terrorizing, the aerial bombardment that has wiped out entire families , the mass displacement of 1.9 million people (at the time of writing), all this is indescribable.

Sometimes it is better to be lost for words. Perhaps we should remember this more often. Perhaps we should hold our tongue until we find words that approximate to reality—the brutal human reality of suffering, grief, loss, and despair. This means suppressing the impulse to appropriate the facts for our agendas, or resisting the urge to smother those facts with words that cushion their impact, euphemisms that soften their blow. Sometimes we should just stand open-mouthed, without a political analysis falling fully formed from our lips. There are times when we need to stop talking in order to start thinking—thinking politically. Now is such a time.

Sometimes it is better to be lost for words. . .  . Perhaps we should hold our tongue until we find words that approximate to reality—the brutal human reality of suffering, grief, loss and despair.

Orwell writes in his essay: “As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed …” Phrases do not have to be around for long in order to become hackneyed. A turn of speech can turn into a cliché almost overnight, provided there is a sufficient incentive. People will latch onto it with alacrity if it helps to conceal an inconvenient truth or to take cover from the implications of their own unbearable position. Take, for example, “humanitarian pause,” a phrase that has become a commonplace in the last couple of months. There has, so far, been one temporary ceasefire, which was towards the end of November 2023. But Israel could not be clearer about its intentions: to continue to lay waste to Gaza. And that is just what they have done, blasting whole neighborhoods to smithereens. Yet there are calls for more “humanitarian pauses.” How reassuring the word “humanitarian” is! But whom does it console: the people of Gaza or the people who utter the phrase? Sara Roy asks: “What does a pause mean in the middle of such carnage? Does it mean feeding people so they can survive to be killed the next day? How is that humanitarian? How is that humane?” But critiquing a mindless mantra or a hackneyed turn of speech is a thankless task. The repetition of the phrase “humanitarian pause” is like a lullaby, and the debate around it is a form of sleep-talking.

Sleep-talking can also take the form of stringing together stock items of vocabulary, “ready-made phrases,” as Orwell calls them, letting them “construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you.” Or, to put it differently, they make the act of thinking passive. They do this according to a kind of algorithm, dictated by a political ideology or program. “It is at this point,” Orwell observes, “that the special connexion between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.” What could be more debased than a jargon that turns barbarism into justice, atrocity into progress, so as to get the facts to fit a preconceived frame? Consider this set of facts about the actions of Hamas or its allies during its incursion into southern Israel on October 7, 2023: around 1,200 people killed in “more than 20 different locations” ; in kibbutz Be’eri alone, “at least 100 people slaughtered … dragged from their homes and murdered” ; women “raped before they were shot” ; over 200 people abducted as hostages, “including infants, children, and elderly people.” Here is how these horrific facts were reflected in the banner headline of a “progressive” newspaper two days later: “Rejoice as Palestinian resistance humiliates racist Israel.”   In this headline, the horrific is turned into the heroic at a stroke. By a kind of verbal alchemy, civilian victims of the crimes committed on October 7th become mere tokens of a state: personifications of Israel, not persons in their own right. It is the Israeli state (“racist Israel”) that was raped, not individual women; the state that was murdered and abducted, not infants or children or the elderly. Similarly, an eminent Israeli historian, but coming to the defense of Israel, declared : “On 7 October Israel [itself] was raped  …” You could say this is hyperbole, but it amounts to theft: stealing the ordeal of rape from the women who experienced it and transferring it to a theoretical entity, the state. To recall Orwell’s words: “the concrete melts into the abstract.” In the banner headline that I have quoted, the flesh-and-blood victims of horrendous acts are erased by a phrase “racist Israel.” Even Israel is not the ultimate villain or target, as the subhead, via a dubious historical comparison, explains: “Like the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, the Palestinians’ surprise attack has humbled imperialism.” Jargon (“imperialism”) has the last word.

The repetition of the phrase “humanitarian pause” is like a lullaby, and the debate around it is a form of sleep-talking.

Moreover, in these two sentences (the headline and the subhead), Hamas’s onslaught is referred to as “Palestinian resistance,” regardless of whether or not this is how Palestinians themselves see it. The synonymy is assumed. But this is a matter for Palestinians themselves to debate and to decide, not something for a person or group in faraway Britain to decree. In this scheme of things, however, Palestinians do not count in their own right, any more than Israelis do. They count only as representatives of (to quote another phrase from the article) “the oppressed.” It is quite an achievement to write an article about the strife between Palestinians and Israelis in which Israelis and Palestinians come into the picture only as stand-ins for “oppressor” and “oppressed.” This article—and there are many others like it—is a helpful demonstration of how “the debasement of language” degrades political thinking. For thinking is not political unless it is grounded, and it is not grounded when, to quote Orwell again, “the concrete melts into the abstract.”

In the passage in which Orwell talks about “the defence of the indefensible,” he immediately illustrates the point with a scenario that is uncannily recognizable. “Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside … the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification .” Substitute “Israel’s right to defend itself” for “pacification” (and maybe “tents” for “huts”), and the picture corresponds to the here and now. Perhaps he really is writing from the grave.

True, President Joe Biden , Prime Minister Rushi Sunak , and other world leaders who assert Israel’s right to defend itself, add that Israel should act within international humanitarian law (or “the laws of war”). But add is the operative word. The emphasis falls repeatedly on the former, giving the clear impression that the right of the state has priority over the human rights of the Palestinian population of Gaza: “Israel has the right, but…” The “but” is an echo of the refrain, “We stand with Israel,” which Biden and Sunak and other world leaders have declared from the start . (Or, as Sunak said, shaking hands with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, “We want you to win.” ) The sound of the refrain, like background noise, never fades, even if we are not aware of hearing it. This too is how speech can confuse and mislead. Language is an instrument. And Biden, Sunak, and the others, are like a collective Nero, fiddling while Gaza burns.

What language can prevent, language can promote: thinking politically. This requires using words that bridge the gap between the concrete and the abstract, without either flinching from the facts or appropriating them for the sake of a cherished theory or agenda. Only thus can we broach the most political of questions, not least for Palestinians and Israelis: how to share the common spaces we inhabit, so as to advance the common good. This, apart from the diagnoses of linguistic malpractices, is what I take from Orwell’s essay—a prophetic blast from the past, which speaks powerfully to us in the present abysmal moment.

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Brian Klug

3 thoughts on “ George Orwell, Gaza, and “The Debasement of Language” ”

As usual, great insights from Brian Klug. As humans, the gift of language can often be used as an avoidance crutch. Raw truths can be blurred as they enter our mind’s eye. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to accept description as provided. Thankfully however, we don’t have to rely on words alone. We can see – but only if we’re shown.

“Sometimes it is better to be lost for words”…I agree Dr Klug as there is only one word: HUMANITY

Thank you, Brian Klug, for putting into words the problems of language with which so many – or perhaps too few – have been contending.

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Why I Write

This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the US, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of  the Orwell Estate . The Orwell Foundation is an independent charity – please consider making a donation or becoming a Friend of the Foundation to help us maintain these resources for readers everywhere. 

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious – i.e. seriously intended ­– writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ – a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also, about twice, attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.

However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d’occasion , semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed – at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week – and helped to edit school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous “story” about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my “story” ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a matchbox, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf,’ etc., etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost –

So hee with difficulty and labour hard Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee,

which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee’ for ‘he’ was an added pleasure. As for the need to describe things, I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days , which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject-matter will be determined by the age he lives in ­– at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own – but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, or in some perverse mood: but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful business men – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature – taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult – I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma:

A happy vicar I might have been Two hundred years ago, To preach upon eternal doom And watch my walnuts grow But born, alas, in an evil time, I missed that pleasant haven, For the hair has grown on my upper lip And the clergy are all clean-shaven. And later still the times were good, We were so easy to please, We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep On the bosoms of the trees. All ignorant we dared to own The joys we now dissemble; The greenfinch on the apple bough Could make my enemies tremble. But girls’ bellies and apricots, Roach in a shaded stream, Horses, ducks in flight at dawn, All these are a dream. It is forbidden to dream again; We maim our joys or hide them; Horses are made of chromium steel And little fat men shall ride them. I am the worm who never turned, The eunuch without a harem; Between the priest and the commissar I walk like Eugene Aram; And the commissar is telling my fortune While the radio plays, But the priest has promised an Austin Seven, For Duggie always pays. I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls, And woke to find it true; I wasn’t born for an age like this; Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia , is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form. I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco. Clearly such a chapter, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the book. A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘You’ve turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist or understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Gangrel , No. 4, Summer 1946

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Quillette

Politics and the English Language, 2023

The continued relevance of George Orwell’s landmark 1946 essay.

George Case

George Orwell’s “ Politics and the English Language ” is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential essays ever written. First published in Britain’s Horizon in 1946, it has since been widely anthologized and is always included in any collection of the writer’s essential nonfiction. In the decades since its appearance, the article has been quoted by many commentators who invoke Orwell’s literary and moral stature in support of its continued relevance. But perhaps the language of today’s politics warrants some fresh criticisms that even the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm could not have conceived.

“Politics and the English Language” addressed the jargon, double-talk, and what we would now call “spin” that had already distorted the discourse of the mid-20th century. “In our time,” Orwell argued, “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. ... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. ... Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Those are the sentences most cited whenever a modern leader or talking head hides behind terms like “restructuring” (for layoffs), “visiting a site” (for bombing), or “alternative facts” (for falsehoods). In his essay, Orwell also cut through the careless, mechanical prose of academics and journalists who fall back on clichés—“all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.”

These objections still hold up almost 80 years later, but historic changes in taste and technology mean that they apply to a new set of unexamined truisms and slogans regularly invoked less in oratory or print than through televised soundbites, online memes, and social media: the errors of reason and rhetoric identified in “Politics and the English Language” can be seen in familiar examples of empty platitudes, stretched metaphors, and meaningless cant which few who post, share, like, and retweet have seriously parsed. Consider how the following lexicon from 2023 is distinguished by the same question-begging, humbug, and sheer cloudy vagueness exposed by George Orwell in 1946.

Systemic racism

Frequently said to be a pressing social issue but seldom defined with any clarity, this common epithet misuses the adjective “systemic” as a synonym for “persistent,” “diffuse,” or “subjectively felt.” True models of systemic racism could include the legal codes of apartheid South Africa, of the segregationist US South before the 1960s, and of Nazi Germany under its Nuremberg Laws from 1935. In each instance, racial or religious discrimination was explicitly prescribed through a complex of written rules and enforced by judges, police, bureaucrats, and other agents of the government. By those standards, no Western democracy can be called systemically racist now; indeed, it’s happily far easier to find systemic anti -racism in the form of federal holidays, commemorations by civic bodies, images on stamps and currency, public commissions and inquiries, academic curricula, hiring policies, official diversity agendas, and in the very texts of constitutional documents. The value of the systemic racism charge lies in how it both extends and depersonalizes guilt in societies where few individuals—and certainly no public authorities—remain avowedly guilty of racism. Call one person a racist and you’ve got an angry lawsuit, but call an entire system racist and you’ve got a campaign plank, a bestselling book, or at the very least a convenient excuse.

Rape culture

Here the same principle of generalization allows activists to accuse whole communities (e.g., a university campus or a sports league) of sanctioning and promoting sexual assault, in the absence of criminal allegations of sexual assault committed by particular people. Like systemic racism, rape culture is a political concept that’s difficult to reject without sounding unlikable or even immoral, rather than a specific indictment that might be leveled or challenged in specific situations—which is probably the point. Both ideas seem to be holdovers from civil rights or feminist movements of generations ago, when unapologetic bigots and lechers were obvious adversaries. Lacking modern equivalents of George Wallace or Larry Flynt, force of habit now ascribes their offenses to everybody and nobody at once, such that a permanent oppressor-victim complaint can be maintained even as the number of certifiable oppressors and victims dwindles.

Stolen land

This expression routinely appears in reference to the settling of Canada, the United States, Australia, and other territory by Europeans after Columbus. Since 1492, the established populations of vast geographies were displaced and devastated by newcomers (see, for example, Ronald Wright’s 1992 book Stolen Continents , along with innumerable posters, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia). This centuries-long process is now reduced to a simple parable of theft. But the stolen land trope borrows the language of criminality to emphasize Native resentment and non-Native culpability in a way that other portrayals don’t: usurped doesn’t have the same bite; the fashionable unceded is more of an empty gesture than a preface to tangible reparation; conquered is hard to dispute historically but rather indelicate in polite company. No one expects the supposedly stolen land to be returned the way it was found, like a stolen car or wallet, just as no one is still bitter that the Romans stole Britain or the Muslims stole Egypt. Assertions of stolen land also promote myths about Aboriginals residing on the same real estate “since time immemorial,” contrary to archaeological and anthropological studies of human migration—violent, gradual, or somewhere in between—across the last 20,000 years.

Cultural genocide

Despite drawing on the same imagery, an emotional injury is not like a broken leg. Spiritual malaise is not like an infectious sickness. Verbal castration is not like castration. Genocide is another noun that means something quite different when it is modified, yet the cultural version has become a staple of political dialogue in Canada (describing the Native experience since colonialism) and elsewhere. As with systemic racism or rape culture, cultural genocide seems to be a linguistic device more than an objective phenomenon: by uttering a powerful word but hedging it with a thin qualification, protesters can subtly compare themselves to Jews under Hitler or Cambodians under Pol Pot, winning public support and governmental redress for undergoing mistreatment significantly milder than what the word stands for alone. There’s no doubt that, in the Canadian context at any rate, Indigenous children were once taught to forsake the traditions of their ancestors and assimilate through English and Christianity. But how might this be considered a program of extermination comparable to the Holocaust or the Killing Fields? We could also say that women’s liberation was a cultural genocide of male chauvinists, or that punk rock was a cultural genocide of hippies. Because we shudder at any mention of genocide, that little caveat “cultural” piggybacks on the horror of the original term while serving as a neat proviso that, oh, by the way, we don’t mean mass murder.

Hate/-phobia/denial

These have become standard characterizations of unwelcome, dissenting, or controversial positions which supposedly reflect the psychological afflictions of the people who hold them. Hate is visceral hostility; -phobia is a suffix denoting irrational fear; denial is a deep-seated refusal to accept one’s personal reality. Thus an opponent of immigration may be a member of a hate group—although, just as likely, he’s concerned with the socio-economic effects of rapid demographic change. A parent opposed to drag performances at her kids’ school may be transphobic—although, just as likely, she’s uncomfortable with sexualized displays aimed at children. A worker unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 may deny science—although, just as likely, he bristles at the regulation of health standards and the access of personal medical data by employers. Increasingly, however, attitudes once thought to be ordinarily political—perhaps biased, perhaps shortsighted, but more or less constructive—are now described as forms of mental imbalance. Were they alive today, Darwin would be dismissed as a creation denialist and Martin Luther as Catholophobic. You’d have to sit down and debate with somebody whose views differ from yours, but there’s no need to engage with a hater, a homophobe, or a denier.

Misinformation and disinformation

A parallel pair of designations given to anything believed or said by those with whom one disagrees; they are descended from the older propaganda . Of course deliberately fake websites and “news” really are disseminated by a variety of actors internationally, and politicians and governments have always told lies to be accepted and shared by their publics. But the labels “misinformation” and “disinformation” are now attached first, and proof that the labeled material is intentionally deceitful is found later, if at all. In fact, most of the reportage, editorials, and conjecture that’s out there is neither unimpeachably correct nor totally spurious. There is a large difference between known untruths which may do real harm (misleading claims for a commercial product, say), and embellishments that twist agreed-on knowledge in order to persuade (such as a political platform). Misinformation and disinformation are like traffic accidents, phone addiction, and dryer lint: inevitable byproducts of widespread technologies whose conveniences we otherwise take for granted. You can always commute by bus, put down your device, and hang your wet clothes on a line—and you can always disconnect from the unending torrent of true and false messages in which we are all drowning—but not many of us are willing to make those trade-offs.

Climate emergency

A burning building is an emergency. A sinking ship is an emergency. A rampaging gunman is an emergency. Evolving conditions in a planet’s atmosphere will impact the life on its surface, but the pace and the scale of the evolution do not merit categorization as an urgent, call-911 crisis. Evidence tells us that human activity has affected long-term trends of temperature and precipitation worldwide; day-to-day weather, though, still follows roughly seasonal patterns that even with occasional storms and heat waves are hardly sudden shocks. Sixty years ago, environmentalists began alerting the public to immediate blights of pollution or deforestation and spent little effort projecting possible consequences in the future. Recycling programs, banned chemicals, and mandated energy efficiency promised, and delivered, immediate benefits. In our era, by contrast, environmentalism is a millenarian cause devoted to anticipation of an imminent event (the 2021 film Don’t Look Up used the prospect of a meteor strike as an analogy), more than the realization of practical reforms. The “Emergency” stamp hypes a legitimate problem that most people can comprehend into an apocalyptic article of faith.

Climate, information, popular knowledge, genocide, land claims, sexual assault, and racism are all serious topics, but politicizing them with hyperbole turns them into trite catchphrases. The language cited here is largely employed as a stylistic template by the outlets who relay it—in the same way that individual publications will adhere to uniform guidelines of punctuation and capitalization, so too must they now follow directives to always write rape culture , stolen land , misinformation , or climate emergency in place of anything more neutral or accurate. Sometimes, as with cultural genocide or systemic racism , the purpose appears to be in how the diction of a few extra syllables imparts gravity to the premise being conveyed, as if a gigantic whale is a bigger animal than a whale , or a horrific murder is a worse crime than a murder .

Elsewhere, the words strive to alter the parameters of an issue so that its actual or perceived significance is amplified a little longer. “Drunk driving” will always be a danger if the legal limits of motorists’ alcohol levels are periodically lowered; likewise, relations between the sexes and a chaotic range of public opinion will always be problematic if they can be recast as rape culture , hate , or disinformation . This lingo typifies the parroted lines and reflexive responses of political communication in the 21st century.

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell’s concluding lesson was not just that parroted lines and reflexive responses were aesthetically bad, or that they revealed professional incompetence in whoever crafted them, but that they served to suppress thinking. “The invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases … can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain,” he wrote. He is still right: glib, shallow expression reflects, and will only perpetuate, glib, shallow thought, achieving no more than to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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orwell 1946 essay

IMAGES

  1. June 8, 1949: George Orwell's '1984'

    orwell 1946 essay

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  3. ≫ Politics and the English Language by George Orwell Free Essay Sample

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  4. How the Poor Die (1946)

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  5. Confessions of a Book Reviewer by George Orwell (1946)

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  6. From “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell (1946

    orwell 1946 essay

VIDEO

  1. WHY I WRITE by George Orwell (Essay)

  2. They're re-writing Orwell's 1984 ?????

  3. Orwell 1984

  4. 1984 by George Orwell video essay

  5. George Orwell

  6. George Orwell: "1984"

COMMENTS

  1. George Orwell: Politics and the English Language

    Politics and the English Language, the essay of George Orwell. First published: April 1946 by/in Horizon, GB, London. ... — April 1946. Reprinted: — 'Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays'. — 1950. — 'The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage' — 1956.

  2. A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell's 'Politics and the English

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'Politics and the English Language' (1946) is one of the best-known essays by George Orwell (1903-50). As its title suggests, Orwell identifies a link between the (degraded) English language of his time and the degraded political situation: Orwell sees modern discourse (especially political discourse) as being less a matter…

  3. Politics and the English Language

    Cover of the Penguin edition "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell that criticised the "ugly and inaccurate" written English of his time and examined the connection between political orthodoxies and the debasement of language. The essay focused on political language, which, according to Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable ...

  4. A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell's 'Why I Write'

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'Why I Write' is an essay by George Orwell, published in 1946 after the publication of his novella Animal Farm and before he wrote his final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.The essay is an insightful piece of memoir about Orwell's early years and how he developed as a writer, from harbouring ambitions to write self-consciously literary works to ...

  5. Essays and other works

    The Art of Donald McGill ( Horizon, 1941) The Moon Under Water ( Evening Standard, 1946) The Prevention of Literature ( Polemic, 1946) The Proletarian Writer (BBC Home Service and The Listener, 1940) The Spike ( Adelphi, 1931) The Sporting Spirit ( Tribune, 1945) Why I Write ( Gangrel, 1946) You and the Atom Bomb ( Tribune, 1945)

  6. Politics and the English Language Summary

    Introduction. George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" was published in 1946 in the literary magazine Horizon.Though modern considerations of Orwell more often focus on his ...

  7. A Summary and Analysis of George Orwell's 'Politics vs. Literature'

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels' is a 1946 essay by George Orwell (1903-50).In the essay, Orwell explores Swift's depiction and view of humanity in Gulliver's Travels (1726), a novel we have analysed here.. You can read 'Politics vs Literature' in full here, but below we offer a short summary, and ...

  8. PDF Politics and the English Language

    Politics and the English Language. George Orwell { 1946. Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language { so the argument runs { must inevitably share in the ...

  9. Politics And The English Language

    Original publication of George Orwells essay "Politics and the English Language" from the April 1946 issue of the journal Horizon (volume 13, issue 76, pages 252-265). Addeddate 2015-03-23 04:47:41

  10. The Moon Under Water

    The Moon Under Water, Watford.One of many pubs named after Orwell's description. "The Moon Under Water" is a 1946 essay by George Orwell, originally published as the Saturday Essay in the Evening Standard on 9 February 1946, in which he provided a detailed description of his ideal public house, the fictitious "Moon Under Water".It was Orwell's last contribution to the Evening Standard.

  11. Second Thoughts on James Burnham

    "Second Thoughts on James Burnham" ("James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution", when published as a pamphlet) is an essay, first published in May 1946 in Polemic, by the English author George Orwell.The essay discusses works written by James Burnham, an American political theorist.. In the essay Orwell accepts that the general drift has 'almost certainly been towards oligarchy' and 'an ...

  12. George Orwell's Five Greatest Essays (as Selected by Pulitzer-Prize

    Every time I've taught George Orwell's famous 1946 essay on misleading, smudgy writing, "Politics and the English Language,' to a group of undergraduates, we've delighted in pointing out the number of times Orwell violates his own rules—indulges some form of vague, "pretentious" diction, slips into unnecessary passive voice, etc.

  13. George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language'

    In 1946, George Orwell published his now-famous essay, "Politics and the English Language." Ammon sincerely wishes he hadn't. Ammon Shea: One of the questions I feel like when you work in dictionaries that you often get from people, is that people always want to know what words are there that you hate, or that one hates or would banish from the ...

  14. Critical Essays (Orwell)

    Critical Essays. (Orwell) First edition (publ. Secker & Warburg) Critical Essays (1946) is a collection of wartime pieces by George Orwell. It covers a variety of topics in English literature, and also includes some pioneering studies of popular culture. It was acclaimed by critics, and Orwell himself thought it one of his most important books.

  15. The Best George Orwell Essays Everyone Should Read

    This 1946 essay is notable for at least two reasons: one, it gives us a neat little autobiography detailing Orwell's development as a writer; and two, it includes four 'motives for writing' which break down as egoism (wanting to seem clever), aesthetic enthusiasm (taking delight in the sounds of words etc.), the historical impulse (wanting to record things for posterity), and the ...

  16. Opinion

    The writer is George Orwell, in his celebrated 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language.". Orwell contended that language had become corrupt and debased in his time, but the survival of ...

  17. George Orwell, Gaza, and "The Debasement of Language"

    Drawing on George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language," Klug makes the case that abstracting away from the concrete experiences of those who experienced violence on and since October 7th, 2023, leaves us bereft of the vocabularies needed to confront the challenges we face. Only by grappling with the reality of the ...

  18. Why I Write

    Why I Write" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell detailing his personal journey to becoming a writer. It was first published in the Summer 1946 edition of Gangrel. The editors of this magazine, J.B.Pick and Charles Neil, had asked a selection of writers to explain why they write. The essay offers a type of mini-autobiography in which he writes ...

  19. Why I Write

    Why I Write. This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the US, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Orwell Estate.The Orwell Foundation is an independent charity - please consider making a donation or becoming a Friend of the Foundation to help us maintain these resources for readers everywhere.. From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or ...

  20. Politics and the English Language, 2023

    Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash. George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential essays ever written. First published in Britain's Horizon in 1946, it has since been widely anthologized and is always included in any collection of the writer's essential nonfiction. In the decades since its appearance, the article has ...

  21. Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

    "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" is an essay published in 1946 by the English author George Orwell.It is a eulogy in favour of spring. The essay first appeared in Tribune on the 12 April 1946, and was reprinted in The New Republic 20 May 1946. An abridged version, "The Humble Toad", appeared in World Digest in March 1947.