Monday, November 26, 2007

On Orwell and the English language

One of the essays I enjoy reading every now and then is Orwell's "Politics and the English Language". I do that to keep myself alert to some of the mistakes I might drift into when blogging, writing an essay or just reading articles. Today this paragraph struck me as interesting, especially now that we are in a time where slogans and political words are passed around like peppermints :

Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

9 comments:

faysal said...
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faysal said...
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faysal said...

add "terrorist" to that list, a word whose usage has remained deliberately vague and imprecise in order to justify and promote any number and variety of contradictory ideologies, of suffering, death, and destruction.

The Syrian Brit said...

What about 'martyr' and 'martyrdom'?. These, too, are grossly abused..

Hisham said...

Wassim, please try this:

http://www.politicalcompass.org/test

وسيم said...

Faysal, Syrian Brit,
Somehow I imagine these words would fit right in should he have been alive today to rewrite his essay.

Hisham,
I think I broke it ;) I'll try it again tomorrow. That's a really cool idea. Sometimes I wonder how valid it is to just use the right/left wing dichotomy for explaining different political positions. Maybe we should also have up and down? :P

Hisham said...

Yes; the test has obvious limits but I would be really interested in knowing what it would produce if applied to all my progressive friends; although I already have an idea about which part of the compass you'll hit ;)

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

enjoyed the orwell bit, as well as the test. whenever i hear the word freedom, liberty, etc, i think to myself: freedom my ass.

وسيم said...

Hisham,
I may just surprise you ;) who knows!

IBJ,
My thoughts exactly.