Society & Culture

Orwell in Chains

George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” remains a lighthouse, the beam sweeping past the scene for a moment of blinding illumination before passing on to darkness.  Though Orwell enjoined us against cliché, Hamlet’s “More honoured in the breach than the observance” applies: Everybody lauds Orwell, but few appear to have read him.  And of those few, fewer still are practicing politicians.  Political discourse today is a threnody for Orwellism.

“The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness,” said Orwell.  That is the commanding feature of today’s political discourse.  The latest version of the vice is the indeterminacy principle: Matters are not defined, but are gestured at, on the grounds that they are something else.  The in- or un-formation is everywhere today, especially in England.

Consider the following commonly used words.  Unhelpful poses the obvious question: What exactly would be “helpful”?  Inappropriate is a prissy, skirt-raising shunning of some harmless action or word.  So is disproportionate.  The writer marks out some austere contour of the proportionate, while withholding its actual dimensions.  Critics of Britain’s Kids Company are “irresponsible,” while the minister responsible is “disingenuous”...

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