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Politics and the English Language Free essay! Download now

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Politics and the English Language

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 5400 | Submitted: 12-Feb-2009
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Politics and the English Language

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...
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have
political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence
of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause,
reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an
intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because
he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely
because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the
English language. 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. The point is that the process is reversible.
Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which
spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take
the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more
clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political
regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and
is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to
this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have
said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of
the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially
bad--I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen--but because they
illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are
a little below the average, but are fairly representative samples. I
number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:


(1) I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton
who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become,
out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to
the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to
tolerate.
         PROFESSOR HAROLD LASKI (Essay in FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION)

(2) Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of
idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the
Basic PUT UP WITH for TOLERATE or PUT AT A LOSS for BEWILDER.
         PROFESSOR LANCELOT HOGBEN (INTERGLOSSA)

(3) On the one side we have the free personality; by definition it is not
neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as
they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval
keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern
would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is
natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But ON THE OTHER SIDE, the
social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these
self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the
very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of
mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
         Essay on psychology in POLITICS (New York)

(4) All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic
fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror
of the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to
acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of
poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian
organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoisie to chauvinistic
fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the
crisis.
         Communist pamphlet

(5) If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one
thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the
humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak
canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may lee sound and of
strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like
that of Bottom in Shakespeare's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM--as gentle as any
sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be
traduced in the eyes, or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors
of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the
Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less
ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish,
inflated, inhibited, school-ma'am-ish arch braying of blameless bashful
mewing maidens.
         Letter in TRIBUNE


Each of these passages has faults of its own, but quite apart from
avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is
staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either
has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something
else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything
or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most
marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind
of political writing. 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 hen-house. 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. A newly-invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a
visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically
"dead" (e.g., IRON RESOLUTION) has in effect reverted to being an
ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. 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. Examples are:
RING THE CHANGES ON, TAKE UP THE CUDGELS FOR, TOE THE LINE, RIDE
ROUGHSHOD OVER, STAND SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH, PLAY INTO THE HANDS OF,
AN AXE TO GRIND, GRIST TO THE MILL, FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS, ON THE
ORDER OF THE DAY, ACHILLES' HEEL, SWAN SONG, HOTBED. Many of these are
used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for
instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign
that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors
now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those
who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, TOE THE LINE is
sometimes written TOW THE LINE. Another example is THE HAMMER AND THE
ANVIL, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst
of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never
the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying
would be aware of this, and would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS, or VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out
appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with
extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic
phrases are: RENDER INOPERATIVE, MILITATE AGAINST, PROVE UNACCEPTABLE,
MAKE CONTACT WITH, BE SUBJECTED TO, GIVE RISE TO, GIVE GROUNDS FOR,
HAVING THE EFFECT OF, PLAY A LEADING PART (RÔLE) IN, MAKE ITSELF FELT,
TAKE EFFECT, EXHIBIT A TENDENCY TO, SERVE THE PURPOSE OF, etc., etc. The
keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single
word, such as BREAK, STOP, SPOIL, MEND, KILL, a verb becomes a PHRASE,
made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb as
PROVE, SERVE, FORM, PLAY, RENDER. 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). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the
'-IZE' AND 'DE-' formations, and banal statements are given an appearance
of profundity by means of the NOT 'UN-' formation. Simple conjunctions and
prepositions are replaced by such phrases as WITH RESPECT TO, HAVING
REGARD TO, THE FACT THAT, BY DINT OF, IN VIEW OF, IN THE INTERESTS OF, ON
THE HYPOTHESIS THAT; and the ends of sentences are saved from anti-climax
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.
...

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