George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" is an essay on the importance of clarity and concise language and how those elements affect political writing.
He analyzes five pieces of text to show how they utilize this overly complicated, insincere writing to achieve their purpose.
He selects works by Harold Laski, Lancelot Hogben, and Paul Goodman, as well as a communist pamphlet and a reader's letter in .
Summary Orwell opens by discussing the value of working against the decay of the English language. Thus, if it is corroding, this is a human-controlled rather than simply natural process. In clear terms, Orwell describes the cycle in which the poor use of language becomes reinforced by that poor use.
He uses a clear analogy to describe this cycle, stating that “a man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks” (251).
He moves on to present different examples of language that reflect different habits of thinking.
He selects examples from different academic texts, political pamphlets and a letter to the editor of the .His purpose in the analysis is to show “the special connection between politics and the debasement of language.” Orwell maintains that, in his time, political speech and writing are “largely the defence of the indefensible.” That is, the actions of ruthless politicians can be defended, but only by brutal arguments that “do not square with the professed aims of political parties.” He gives examples of the British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, and the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan.In order to talk about such atrocities, Orwell contends, one has to use political language that consists “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Orwell translates for his readers the real...He returns to the claim that he opens with: that language is a tool, and not a natural evolutionary growth. It does however, take diligent, conscious effort on the part of the political writer or speaker.Orwell thinks that mindless and actively deceptive language can be identified and resisted through ridicule, and, most of all, through a diligent commitment to honest representation.This kind of language, overly fraught with large words without conveying significant meaning, is exceptionally susceptible to being used in propaganda.Orwell believes that this type of speech is inherently insincere, and that is why it is so useful as propaganda.When a person becomes lazy they allow their language to think for them.In this way, political writers end up following a party line.As corrupted language smothers independent, original thinking, it thus serves a political purpose.Orwell demonstrates the deceptive effect of various political terms, showing how elevated, complex and abstract language actively disguises ugly and violent concrete realities.