The Language of Deception
Avaliado no Reino Unido em 2 de janeiro de 2017
George Orwell is one of the few writers this reviewer has read extensively. His writing was always clear, thoughtful and has stood the test of time. ‘Politics and The English Language’ is one such essay. Orwell starts from the premise that the decline of the English language has been caused by political and economic factors. It has become ‘ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish’ while the slovenliness of our language has made it easier to have foolish thoughts in the first place. On has only to look at the intemperate language used by both sides in the Brexit debate and obnoxious response of the Democrats to the loss of the Presidential election to know that nothing has changed since Orwell wrote seventy years ago.
Orwell selects five passages as illustrations of various ‘mental vices from which we now suffer’. Amongst those are writings from Harold Laski, Lancelot Hogben, a communist pamphlet and a letter to Tribune the Left-Wing newspaper to which Orwell frequently contributed. Each one of them demonstrates a staleness of imagery, a lack of precision and are filled with hackneyed phrases, ‘tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen house’. The are filled with worn-out metaphors such as ‘no axe to grind’, ‘ring the changes’, ‘grist to the mill’ and ‘play into the hands of’. Many such metaphors suggest the writer is uninterested in what he is saying and often twist their original meaning as in ‘tow the line’ instead of ‘toe the line’.
He refers to operators or verbal false limbs such as ‘militate against’, ‘prove unacceptable’ and ‘have the effect of’ all of which have as their purpose the elimination of simple verbs. Newspaper editors use similar techniques as a means of maximising space, often substituting commas for conjunctions or prepositions. In the industrial world union leaders can be relied upon to condemn the latest ‘derisory offer before effecting a ‘satisfactory conclusion’’. Orwell deplores pretentious diction such as objective, element, basic, virtual and exploit which ‘are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of impartiality to biased judgements’. Adjectives such as ‘epoch-making’ ‘epic’ ‘historical’ - and more recently in soccer ‘scorpion’ - are used to dignify the ordinary with a status it does not deserve.
According to Orwell ‘Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones’ and use unnecessary words such as expedite, ameliorate, predict, deracinated, in preference to Anglo-Saxon terms. He is particularly scathing of Marxist writing and its condemnatory tone which uses hyena, petty bourgeois, lackey, flunky and mad dog, terms that are still in use by liberals who call opponents fascist. He attacks meaningless words as used in art and literary criticism where romantic, plastic, human, values, natural and vitality are improperly used outside the pretentious context in which they are developed. In academic studies words carry deceitful meanings such as ‘fascism’ and ‘democracy’, the former signifying something undesirable, the latter something to be praised although Soviet democracy was an oxymoron and used in a consciously dishonest way. Other terms used in this manner are class, science, progressive, reactionary, totalitarian, bourgeois and equality.
Modern writing at its worst does not gum together long strips of words to clarify their meaning but to confuse readers. He points out that stating ‘I think’ is for more accurate than ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’. Orwell criticised stale metaphors, similes and idioms. Modern writers do not ask ‘What am I trying say?’ but ‘How can I confuse the reader?’ Political writing is particularly bad writing. Orthodoxy produces banality as in Blair’s ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Bush over Iraq. Writing over a half a century earlier Orwell’s perception was accurate. ‘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’ signifying a lack of perception of reality. In Orwell’s time political language consisted ‘largely of euphemism, question begging and sheer cloudy vagueness’ which he was able to express in Animal Farm, a manuscript which was turned down several times owing to the influence of the Ministry of Information.
In Orwell’s eyes the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. ‘All issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia’. Orwell proposes half a dozen rules for good writing. The first is ‘Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print’. Others included ‘never use a long word where a short one will do’ and ‘If it’s possible to cut a word out, do so’. The other three are ‘never use the passive where you can use the active’ or a foreign phrase, scientific word or jargon where there is an everyday English equivalent. Almost whimsically he states ‘Break any of these rulers sooner than say anything outright barbarous’. His contempt for political language is manifest and he consigns it all to the dustbin where it belongs.
The pamphlet also includes a review of the unexpurgated version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf about which wrote in March 1940. He suggests the book was edited from a pro-Hitler position with the intention of toning down its original ferocity and presenting the dictator in a favourable light. To offset any negative publicity the publishers included a note stating that all profits would be devoted to the Red Cross. Orwell was not impressed. He dismissed Hitler’s world-view as rigid and incapable of development. He acknowledges that in Germany at the time Hitler came to power his policies were appealing. Fascism and Nazism were closer to the reality of the human condition than western progressive thought. Two superb essays, four excellent stars.
27 pessoas acharam isso útil