Politics and the English Language

I just finished reading an essay by George Orwell titled “Politics and the English Language.” It’s a compelling look at the English language and the interplay of degrading language and degrading thought (a downward spiral we must confront).
Orwell expresses concern that language had, in 1946, become commonly filled with tired expression and far too much meaningless filler, notably in art criticism and politics. Surely today we are in no better shape, with a polarity of language, either filled with excessive words or words misused. If common writing (and speach as well) has become so poor, it’s not a great leap to believe that thought has as well, and that seems quite obviously true to me.
I found Orwell’s natural sense (I’m here on replacing the phrase “common sense” with “natural sense,” mostly on the grounds that sensibleness seems uncommon) suggestions for dealing with this great problem to be useful. He suggests that a writer of awareness would ask the questions, “What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?” all of which are obviously beneficial. He also gives the wise guidelines of writing, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never us a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Orwell states, provocatively, that “one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.” While he cautions that we can’t change the world immediately, he gives us the prodding that changing our own habits can make a difference. I believe this is advice worthy of heeding.

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