Review of “Politics and the English Language” (1946)


George Orwell (writer).

Read in 2022.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. 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. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think.

An unusual combination of pro-Saxon writing prescriptions, most of them good, with a weak version of linguistic relativity (the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis). As for modernity, compare Orwell’s examples to this sample of “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”:

Matters being thus arranged, I contrived, by the aid of my wife, and with the greatest secrecy and caution, to dispose of what property I had remaining, and to borrow, in small sums, under various pretences, and without giving any attention (I am ashamed to say) to my future means of repayment, no inconsiderable quantity of ready money.

Granted, Poe was academically trained, but the bad writing Orwell complains about was already common, and already bad, more than a century earlier.

text non-fiction