"Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell

In this essay, George Orwell explores the ways language can be used to conceal truth and encourage conformity of thought.

Here are links to our lists for other works by George Orwell: Animal Farm, 1984, "Shooting an Elephant"
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definitions & notes only words
  1. archaism
    the use of an outdated expression
    It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes.
  2. slovenly
    negligent of neatness especially in dress and person
    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.
  3. frivolous
    not serious in content, attitude, or behavior
    If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
  4. hackneyed
    repeated too often; overfamiliar through overuse
    As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
  5. metaphor
    a figure of speech that suggests a non-literal similarity
    I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:
    Dying metaphors.
  6. evocative
    serving to bring to mind
    But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.
  7. gerund
    a noun formed from a verb
    In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining ).
  8. banal
    repeated too often; overfamiliar through overuse
    The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation.
  9. profundity
    intellectual depth; penetrating knowledge
    The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation.
  10. anticlimax
    a disappointing decline after a previous rise
    ...the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion , and so on and so forth.
  11. sordid
    morally degraded
    Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable , are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.
  12. archaic
    so extremely old as seeming to belong to an earlier period
    Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable , are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.
  13. jargon
    a characteristic language of a particular group
    The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard , etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation.
  14. affix
    a linguistic element added to a word
    The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard , etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation.
  15. reconcile
    make compatible with
    The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.
  16. perversion
    the action of corrupting something
    Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to.
  17. parody
    a composition that imitates or misrepresents a style
    This is a parody, but not a very gross one.
  18. arresting
    commanding attention
    The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first.
  19. humbug
    pretentious or silly talk or writing
    It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.
  20. euphonious
    having a pleasant sound
    If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious.
  21. stenographer
    someone skilled in the transcription of speech
    When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style.
  22. pretentious
    creating an appearance of importance or distinction
    When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style.
  23. simile
    a figure of speech expressing a resemblance between things
    By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.
  24. idiom
    expression whose meaning cannot be inferred from its words
    By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.
  25. superfluous
    more than is needed, desired, or required
    One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.
  26. scrupulous
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
    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?
  27. debasement
    a change to a lower, less respected state
    It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
  28. orthodoxy
    the quality of adhering to what is commonly accepted
    Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.
  29. hack
    a mediocre writer, especially one who writes for hire
    When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases...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.
  30. conformity
    hardened conventionality
    And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
  31. euphemism
    an inoffensive expression substituted for an offensive one
    Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
  32. incendiary
    capable of causing fires or catching fire spontaneously
    Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.
  33. pacification
    actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency
    Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.
  34. totalitarianism
    a form of government in which the ruler is unconstrained
    Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism.
  35. decadence
    the state of being degenerate in mental or moral qualities
    I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable.
  36. salvage
    save from ruin, destruction, or harm
    To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from.
  37. obsolete
    no longer in use
    To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from.
  38. syntax
    the grammatical arrangement of words in sentences
    It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style."
  39. colloquial
    characteristic of informal spoken language or conversation
    On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial.
  40. pretext
    a fictitious reason that conceals the real reason
    Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism.
Created on December 1, 2017 (updated December 1, 2017)

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