In Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, Orwell expresses his raw opinion on the deterioration of the English language and how politics is a cause for the “vagueness and incompetence” that writing has succumbed too. Though the title of the essay introduces politics first and the English language last, Orwell’s thesis seems to consist of neither; it consists of the silliness of modern human writing. He states in the second paragraph, “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.” His thesis is a broad statement that engulfs the horrible habits of politicians who use pre-made phrases that ultimately lead to a passage that makes no sense at all. Orwell discusses his view on the English Language after he scrutinizes several passages that he uses as examples throughout the essay. With these examples, he explains the quality of writing that is used commonly throughout writers using modern English. From start to finish of his essay, Orwell analyzes the mistakes, bad habits, inability to express meaning in writing pieces.
On page two, Orwell says, “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…” Despite Orwell’s expression of the negatives in writing today, he isn’t completely hopeless; for he gives solutions and tips on how to overcome poor writing habits. Throughout his explanation and argument, Orwell stresses the incompetence, vagueness, and carelessness in writing that is commonly used in literary expositions. Orwell goes on to list general problems with writing techniques and the appearance of meaning clarity. First, he talks about the use of dying metaphors. In this paragraph, Orwell explains that people use these dying metaphors “because they save people from inventing phrases for themselves.” He analyzes the use of these metaphors and how some are sucked out of their original meanings without the writer noticing themselves; completely altering the meaning of the metaphor or text. Next, Orwell describes the use of “verbal false limbs,” or the use of more syllables in a sentence to show symmetry.
He notes that people use fancy, pre-made phrases to replace simple conjunctions and prepositions to cushion their sentences. These pre-made phrases are used almost instantly and can ruin the meaning and clarity a text almost indefinitely. Third, Orwell goes on about the use of pretentious diction used mainly by political, scientific, and sociological writers. Pretentious diction is explained to be the use of trendy, foreign phrases and sophisticated words to show culture and elegancy. But Orwell argues that these fancy phrases are “an increase in slovenliness and vagueness” in writing. Lastly, Orwell talks about the abuse of meaningless words. He explains that writers may use a word has one meaning, but they use it in a text dishonestly with their own personal definition. These poor habits of writing are seen continuously and exemplify the demise of the English Language. Orwell’s issues are valid because the vagueness and meaningless texts are examples of the habits and mind of the writer. its because of the poor writing habits that Orwell says, “it consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”
Overall, Orwell explains the negative aspects of writing and writing habits in the modern English Language. However, Orwell remains hopeful about the improvement and changes of writing. Throughout his essay, Orwell continuously stresses the deterioration of the English Language and the vagueness and meaninglessness modern literacy. He presents six questions that every writer should ask themselves while writing: “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?” Not only does he present these questions writing, he gives six quick tips to break bad habits in writing. He explains that writers should never use any type of figurative speech that is seen regularly in print, should use short words instead of long words, for writers to throw out useless words, to use the active if you can replace the passive and to use everyday English instead of foreign phrases or scientific words. As Orwell’s last tip, he says “break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Orwell feels that breaking poor writing habits and following these tricks will allow anyone to achieve meaningful and clear writing. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” (59) Orwell displays several different passages in his text that are unclear and vague to even the writer. By being unclear, one can falsify the meaning of their writing, making it insincere. This quote from Orwell’s essay is a prime example of why clarity is so important in writing, especially for politicians who often use pre-made phrases, assuring vagueness and loss of meaning. Orwell writes in his essay, “…ready-made phrases…will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” This quote explains how important it is to be clear in writing the English Language so that words written are truthful and clear to the read and to the writer themselves.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” (59) Orwell’s quote about thoughts and language corrupting each other brings us back to the thesis of his essay: “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.” Through these two quotes, Orwell expresses that the deterioration of the English language and of the writing skills makes it easier for us have corrupt our minds with ugly thoughts. These ugly thoughts allow us to have corrupt language; making it both language and our human thoughts to blame. The longer we use poor language, the easier and faster it will get stuck in our minds and thoughts. The longer these ill habits of writing are imprinted in our minds, the easier it is to have foolish thoughts to cause more corrupt writing.