Politics and the English Language

Politics and the English Language Study Guide

Fittingly, George Orwell's essay “Politics and the English Language” is accurately described by its title. The essay is about the connection between politics and poor uses of language. It presents an argument for clear, simple, unpretentious language that attempts to represent its meaning—hence the unambiguous title.

The essay is not, as it might at first glance appear, a defense of archaic or traditionally “proper” uses of English. On the contrary, Orwell feels that old, dead words should be abandoned, as he argues for original and independent thinking that comes from asserting agency in language—specifically in political speech. One of his main arguments is that repetitions derive from unoriginal thinking and unoriginal thinking leads to repetitions. He describes a form of indoctrination that happens when people use familiar turns of phrase in political speech. Rather than thinking independently, people pantomime a party line.

Along with hackneyed phrases and meaningless redundancies, abstract or elevated political language is one of his main targets. He demonstrates in clear terms the way that abstract language is a form of lying: namely, when the language used to describe a party’s political agenda is far removed from the violence for which it apologizes.

The essay’s thesis is an evolving one, ultimately aiming to debunk the idea that there’s no hope in resisting the intellectually corrosive effects of political speech, nor the lies produced by highly abstract language for political purpose. He offers a helpful toolkit for the political writer to use in order to resist being indoctrinated by language.