Orwell on political language
March 20, 2003 4:38 AM   Subscribe

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Words are to be likely casualties of the next few hours/days/weeks/months - time to double-check George Orwell's informative field medicine manual for the English Language...
posted by klaatu (6 comments total)
Actually, what Ecclesiastes is basically saying, in a fancy way, is shit happens, yeah?

Sorry, I know I just posted this in a thread, but on reading it again, I'm always amazed at what essential reading this innocuous little article is, and worth an FPP in the current situation. If you're going to talk about 'double-speak' from 1984, this is vital, and and I have a feeling we're going to hearing more than a bit...
posted by klaatu at 4:41 AM on March 20, 2003

That's funny. I immediately thought of the Ecclesiastes quote, and then realized it was because I'd read it in Orwell a while back.

Here, by the way, is a link to the SECOND google hit for "politics english language orwell". It presents itself in plain text and is left aligned -- sort of like the man himself.
posted by coelecanth at 5:00 AM on March 20, 2003

Speaking of casualties: Iraq Body Count is trying to keep track of just that. Nothing like a bloody corpse to cut through the rhetorical fog.
posted by hairyeyeball at 5:07 AM on March 20, 2003

It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say 'In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that' than to say 'I think'.

i think orwell misses the point a bit. in a situation like this quoted, what the writer often precisely does not want to say is that they actually think/agree/hold the opinion that proposition x is true. The intent IMO is to suggest that x is true without leaving oneself open to the attendant accusation/counterargument/rebuttal for actually having made such an assertion. It's not about what is easier or quicker or even about lack of precision.

IMO one would be hard-pressed to argue that pancakes are tasty.

never actually make the assertion that pancakes aren't tasty, nor does it close out the possibility that any argument for the blandness of pancakes could be refuted. It only comments on the relative ease of building an argument pro/versus tastiness of pancakes, but notice also that it says nothing about the relative strength of any such arguments once formulated. This is as precise (if not more so) than 'I think...'
posted by juv3nal at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2003

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
posted by klaatu at 6:00 AM on March 20, 2003

juv3nal - I think that's really one of the things that Orwell is trying to get at...

IMO one would be hard-pressed to argue that pancakes are tasty.

... leaves the (casual) reader with the impression that you have said...

I don't think pancakes are tasty.

... without you actually said this at all. Then if later confronted with tasty pancakes you can simply say "well no, you misunderstood.. I didn't say that." And of course, you would be right, you /didn't/ say that.

"When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms..."

There's scarely a political speach to be heard anywhere that doesn't bear this out.
posted by adamt at 6:33 AM on March 20, 2003

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