The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

27 Sep 2009


These days I’m reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and I’ve found it interesting the author’s criticism of political manipulation of language. To do so, he admits the power of language to shape ideas and thought by creating a fictional situation where a totalitarian regime fosters lexical impoverishment. These are a couple of quotes from Chapter 5:

'It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not.

'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

But the work of Orwellian lexicographers does not limit itself to reduction. New words still emerge as new concepts gain protagonism.

The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself -- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.

In fact Orwell had often shown his concern about the use of language. In his essay 'Politics and the English Language', he criticises inflated and rhetorical discourse as a kind of euphemism to conceal truth. He also contributed to broaden the English lexicon in an involuntary way: expressions such as “Big Brother”, “doublethink” or “Orwellian” itself are part of current usage.

1 comment:

  1. To control the reality by means of controlling the language used to describe it is despicable but no uncommon in history of human society. I even dare to say that we, everyone of us, use this technique in our daily life; if you don´t like something, change its name!