During the time of Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, the world was in the midst of questioning its morals after coming off the heels of a very costly war, World War 2. And it was in the midst of this war that the atmosphere of the world sank into declination. Tension arose, people in power grew more greedy and savage, and the language progressively regressed. Orwell seeks to break down the deterioration of English terminology and speech due to politics, which plays into what is now called “hate speech”, and offers solutions to the serious conflict of vagueness from politicians. If a society loses control of its language, its language will gain control of the society.
Orwell begins his entire rant against English dialect by utilizing cause and effect and summoning up examples to support his opposition towards it. He is upset at the fact that it is generally assumed that nothing can be done for the English tongue. Looking to prove this assumption wrong, Orwell starts off by proposing, “But an effect can become a cause, reducing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form…”. Orwell offers a very questionable proposition that the decline of a language is not due to just bad influence, although the biggest cause is an evil and degenerating atmosphere. Instead, he argues that the effect of a declining language can become a cause, leading to an even bigger effect on society. Then Orwell judges the English language saying, “It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”. He writes in a paradoxical style, in which the reader would question him asking, shouldn’t it be the other way around? This is genius because by later stating that “the process is reversible”, Orwell emphasizes the ongoing connection between one’s thoughts and one’s words. Orwell depicts that it is because of the foolishness of the language that influences a generation to be even worse than the one before it; this is how a language continuously regresses.
Orwell suddenly transforms into a rapacious critic, and breaks down the flaws of professors’ use of English prose. After breaking the hammer over the anvil in discussing the perversion of metaphors, Orwell comes to the conclusion that, “a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would be aware of this, and would avoid perverting the original phrase”. This is another great example of cause and effect and Orwell takes the time to reprimand writers for their blatant misuse of metaphors. The inference is that if the writer would have known what he was writing, he would have refrained from destroying the actual meaning of metaphorical phrases. Orwell also states that during this time, the general assumption was that the foreign languages were “grander” than the Anglo-Saxon language, which was influential to Old English. His argument is that there is no such need for use of foreign phrases if they are already translated into English; people only do this to appear elegant and intelligent. The claim is that it is easier to make up words with Latin or Greek than to think of English words that mean the exact same thing.
After dissecting the “crimes” of the professors and analyzing their perversions, Orwell preys on the politicians lack of truth-telling and their tendency to continuously corrupt the English language. Orwell makes the generalization that, “When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer”. Orwell writes this because he does not want his audience to be ignorant concerning the obvious: that language is the reflection of one’s character. In his time, Orwell acknowledges that the political writing is bad and that politicians hide the truth. They hide the actual meaning of phrases from themselves and others and Orwell uses this point to connect the folly and lies of politics to the seemingly ongoing corruption of our language. Then, Orwell uses another example of seemingly senseless paradox: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better”. All aspects of language, as Orwell is saying, stems from the politicians’ usage of it. And even the experts will imitate, although they have acquired the necessary knowledge to avoid it. As the practice of this “new” language that has been so effective to society increases, the more faulty one’s thoughts become. And it is at this point that the world grows colder and colder to Orwell.
And lastly, Orwell takes on the role of an advisive administrator and offers tips and guidelines on how professors can enhance their writing, bring back meaning, and change the course of language for the better. Orwell begins to wrap up his lecturing and concludes, “What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around”. This is the exposition of the flaws of concreteness; it is better for the meaning and purpose to come prior to the word. His main point here is to let thought come before writing and to take care for what is being written. As a caring advisor, Orwell’s advice to English writers and professors is “Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations”. Orwell’s point is basically to get priorities straight first and foremost. He wants them to establish the purpose and meaning before the usage of words, then comes the implementation of the words. Finally, Orwell’s last warning states, “ Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous”(18). By stating this as his last rule for restoring language, he sets the standard for writing and allows for his guidelines to be top-tier. Orwell doesn’t want a trap of deception to enter his world, so his quest is to spread the message that language should be used as a way of expressing emotion instead of degenerating a culture.