Radical Insight Into Orwell’s Popular Essay, Politics and the English Language


More famous for his books Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, George Orwell also wrote a very popular and widely anthologized essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which discusses the language abuses of British politicians in the 1940s. Despite seeming to be outdated, however, the essay’s timeless new view insight can improve language uage in every age, every field, and every country. The essay’s message is easily seen if we bear in mind the three steps of the old view – new view relationship that underlies the structure and meaning of all published essays.
So let me tell you how Orwell’s essay begins, as all good essays begin-with an old view (=a statement of value already accepted, already shared by the author and the readers, often a rather strongly asserted statement).
Step #1 – Identify the Old View
Usually in the first paragraph of an essay, an old view is stated that leads directly to a new view thesis, most often a reversal of the old view. The new view thesis is stated at the end of that paragraph or within the next paragraph or two or so, depending on the length of the essay.
Orwell sets out the old view in the first paragraph’s second sentence-

    <blockquote>
     Our civilization is decadent and our language-so the argument runs [the accepted, shared old view]-must inevitably share in the general collapse because language is a natural growth of our civilization and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
    </blockquote>

    The second paragraph asserts Orwell's new view thesis that <em>the process is reversible </em><em>[a new view reverse]</em><em>.... If one gets rid of these </em><em>bad linguistic </em><em>habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration.</em>
    <strong>Step #2 - Support Begins Right After the New View Thesis</strong>
    <strong><em>Right after the new view thesis is stated, support for it begins, with a story, an example, or reasoning.</em></strong>
    Orwell obviously thinks he must show just how horribly bad the language problem really is before anyone will take his advice seriously. So he unexpectedly <em>doesn't</em> start right off with support for the new view, but with support <em>for</em> <em>the old view</em>through a multitude of examples.
    In those 15 HUGE body paragraphs supporting the old view, Orwell uses 3,722 words (overkill?!) to share lots of examples of how badly English is being abused by politicians and others who unthinkingly repeat words and phrases from the "party line." You're probably wondering, 'Where's the new view support?'
    In an exception that proves the rule, Orwell's support for his new view thesis does NOT begin right away but in the fourth paragraph before the end of the essay-<em>I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were "explore every avenue" and "leave no stone unturned," which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists.</em>
    A very important aspect of Orwell's insight has to do with a concept that I constantly harp on: newness. He gets right to the point toward the end of all those old view examples of language abuse when he comments<em>, </em><em>You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. </em>And that just happens to be the most important part of Orwell's overall insight: language abuse is often used to cover up the fact that politicians have nothing new to say.
    Now, in the third paragraph before the end, Orwell presents the core support for his new view thesis in the form of six rules for avoiding language abuse: To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from.... And one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
    1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. <br>2) Never use a long word where a short one will do. <br>3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. <br>4) Never use the passive where you can use the active. <br>5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. <br>6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
    <strong>Setp #3 - The Conclusion Restates, Summarizes, Looks to Future</strong>
    <strong><em>The conclusion should briefly restate the new view thesis, summarize the major points of thesis support from body paragraphs, and look to some future aspect of the new view.</em></strong>
    The concluding paragraph does refer to Orwell's general new view theme that-<em>the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.</em>
    Without fully summarizing, Orwell does also provide a sketchy summary of the old view: <em>Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.</em>
    He summarizes even more briefly about the support for his new view: <em>If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.</em>
    And Orwell even points to the future a bit, though not very strongly: <em>One can at least change one's own habits, and send some worn out and useless phrase into the dustbin [British for 'garbage can'] where it belongs.</em>
    Now, here are five sample new view thesis statements that can give you ideas for writing your own essays about Orwell's popular "Politics and the English Language" -

    <ul>
     <li>In his essay, "Politics and the English Language," Orwell unexpectedly provides far too many examples of the old view and spends very little time developing his new view reversal.</li> 
     <li>Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language," follows the classic presentation of first old view and then new view; but then he surprisingly begins supporting his old view instead of his new view, which he neglects until almost the end.</li> 
     <li>In George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language," he not only overdevelops his support for his old view and under-develops his new view, but he also provides a weak conclusion.</li> 
     <li>The widely popular essay, "Politics and the English Language," shows good reasoning in the introduction of the first two paragraphs, but disappointingly falls short of solid reasoning in the rest of the essay.</li> 
     <li>The popular essay "Politics and the English Language" begins well, but it unfortunately fails to deliver any fully developed stories that would help make the essay's new view easy to remember and to relate to.</li>
    </ul>
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