100 articles – ‘Politics and the English Language’

23 April 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘Politics and the English Language’ by George Orwell

George Orwell’s journalism and non-fiction work is known for clarity and directness, and this article, published in the British magazine Horizon in 1946, is no exception.

Orwell writes that the English language ‘becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.’ For Orwell, language and politics are linked because there is a direct relationship between lazy language and lazy thoughts.

The essay is both an argument for this link and an examination of the details of language use that offend Orwell so greatly. He berates, among other things, ‘dying metaphors’, ‘pretentious diction’ and ‘meaningless words’.

Orwell’s work has never held back from expressing exactly what he thinks, no matter how controversial it may be, and this directness of thought and expression is what he argues for here. His writing has an originality and creativity (as well as a certain eccentricity) that stands out 65 years later, and makes him a favourite for many journalists.

While some of Orwell’s argument has dated over the last half-century, the principles underlying it are as relevant as ever. The essay is a reminder of our responsibility as journalists to treat language with respect and to use it judiciously.

Suzannah Marshall Macbeth is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and a member of the upstart editorial team. Links to much of George Orwell’s non-fiction writing and journalism can be found here.

Want to contribute to our list of the 100 articles every journalist should read about journalism? Full details, including the list so far, can be found  here.