Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”: How to Repair Corrupt Politics with Good Grammar

What is it about politics and English language? A British man by the name of George Orwell had explored the connection between the political world and linguistic world, especially English, through his famous essay “Politics and the English Language”. If you hate politics because you don’t understand what it about, then this little summary (and a bit of my rant) is for you.

If you remembered from your history classes, 1946 is the year after World War II ended. Everything was chaotic, and of course, the political world was even more chaotic. The aftermath of WWII became a power struggle between those who have authorities. George Orwell, a British man, wrote an essay called “Politics and English Language” during this turbulent time. According to him, a bad usage of English deceives audiences about politics’ original messages. His solution is to practice good habits in written English and avoid the bad ones.

At this point, maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the connection between English and politics? Aren’t politics just politics?” I had that thought the first time as well because I thought that this essay is just some encouragement to students to write a worthy paper. However, after some research (in my case, a visit to Wikipedia and some Q&As with my teacher), I understand the significance of this essay.

It is more than just creating sophisticated written work. The way English-speakers use the language will determine the course of that culture, including politics. For those who hate politics, I know your pain because I hate politics as well; but this essay provides a healthy insight on why we should care about politics through our use of language. This essay explains a part of the reasons why politics sounds superflous yet holds authority over people. Politics, as we know, is the result of bad habits in language.

What do these habits look like? In his essay, Orwell wrote down some examples of what bad English looks like. You might be surprised that some of these examples are coming from people with a title like “professor”. From all of his examples, he concluded 4 habits that English writers often make.

1. “Dying Metaphor”

For example, Achilles’ heel. Some older generations would think that this is a metaphor for a weakness. Some younger generations maybe would think that this is a jargon word in Biology. The point is, the metaphor is so old that some people don’t know what it means until they Google it.

2. Operator or Verbal False Limbs

A.k.a. using jargons instead of simple words. Instead of using “show”, one could write “exhibit a tendency to”; a verb becomes a phrase. I admit that I am guilty for this one for the sake of the word counts and “sophisticatedness” in my papers.

3. Pretentious Dictions

This habit is pretty dangerous because it could lead to biased judgement. Again, with the “sophisticated” words, like cul de sac; it makes the user sounds fancy and smart, but the word just means a street or a passage that leads to nowhere.

4. Meaningless Words

Personally, this is the reason why I hate politics. Fascism, democracy, socialism, patriotic, republic, and many other political jargons that I don’t even know anything about (until I look it up at a dictionary); these are the words that partially, I think, make people uninterested with politics because it has lost its meaning. Most people don’t know exactly what these words mean, which explains their ignorance towards the topic. Seriously though, how would you explain democracy to somebody in simple unbiased words?

All of these bad habits are resulting an ignorance to a proper use of English.  If you’re a student (or used to be a student) that needs to give papers to your teacher on time, there are times when you don’t even care what the paper is going to look like as long as you put something on your paper and hand it on time, right? Also, there is a big chance that you have already did all of the bad habits that Orwell had mentioned, right? #relatable #pleaserepent

When you become ignorant to something, what will happen? You get numb to it, and maybe your mind is just going to say, “Meh.” You’ll get used to bad English to the point that you won’t even realize which is good English and which is bad English.

Imagine that kind of attitude in the political world, where many lives depend on words and decisions of leaders.

This is why Orwell wrote this elaborate essay. He sees the importance of using proper English in delivering a message. This is the interconnection between politics and English.

Language can corrupt politics, and politics can corrupt language as well. Unclear use of language can disrupt the message in politics, and politics can blur concepts and details in writings. All of these seems uncontrollable, but Orwell believes that this problem can be fixed. How? It starts with you. Yeah! You! I’m talking to you, the one reading this post.

You and I have the power to change this bad habit. If we start a good habit of using English correctly and clearly, we will carry this habit of good English wherever we go. We will create better culture in delivering our message either spoken or written.

I know the struggle is real. This bad habit of improper use of English has been rooted for ages. Remember that Orwell wrote this essay in 1946, so that means your grandparents and their grandparents have faced this problem for a loooong time. It is hard, but it does not mean that we should stop caring about using English correctly.

If you still don’t believe me why this essay is awesome, below is the link to the original essay of “Politics and the English Language”

George Orwell – Politics and the English Language

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