Politics and the English Language

The intention of this essay is to educate others about the “vagueness” of the English language. He persuades his readers to speak and write with more clarity by using examples from English journals and novels.

Orwell builds most of his argument by criticizing five different works of literature; he spends the majority of the essay discussing why each excerpt is an example of poor English. He’s able to convince readers that he’s correct because his pompously confident writing style makes him seem educated. For example, he says, “It is very clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that influential writer. But an effect can become a cause.” He may not be any more educated than the writers he criticizes, but his writing style is so confident that it’s hard to not believe him.

The audience of Politics and the English Language is the average English speaker. Throughout the essay, he appeals to his audience by using a very direct and clear arrangement. He organized his main issues with modern English by separating them into four distinct sections (Dying Metaphors, Operators or Verbal False Limbs, Pretentious Diction, and Meaningless Words). Doing so made it very easy for the average English speaker to understand.

One of my favorite sections of the essay was the paragraph about dying metaphors, or metaphors that have lost their original meaning due to overuse. He uses “fishing in troubled waters”, “swan song”, “toe the line”, and many more as examples. For me, as a reader, this paragraph added so much ethos to Orwell’s claim because as I sat there reading his list of dying metaphors, I recognized most of them but could not explain what they meant. It proved to me that I, like many other readers, don’t pay enough attention to the words we use.

–Lauren Wetsch

Orwell has a very know-it-all sort of tone in this essay which assists him in appealing to ethos. He writes using a vocabulary set that is very sophisticated, which is evidence that he is at least somewhat well-educated, and therefore can be a reliable source of information to the audience. The almost overbearing amount of confidence he writes with when criticizes the five passages in this essay makes the audience trust in his credibility.

A point made that stood out to me in this essay was when Orwell gave examples of how certain political words have been reduced to having no agreeable definitions, and as a result are often used dishonestly. My favorite example reads, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable'” My other favorite quote from this section is when Orwell describes the usage of the word “democratic”, stating, “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 one word if it were tied down to any one meaning.” These statements appeal to pathos, as most can agree that when an audience hears or see the word fascist/fascism attached to a subject in a sentence, they usually feel distrust towards the subject and assume that it is evil. Though this also brings in an appeal to logos in a way, because fascist holds those connotations thanks to certain governments identified as such in history, like the WWII Italy for one example, that were ineffective and offered citizens few freedoms.

The “pretentious diction” section has to be my overall favorite section just because of how true it is, regardless of whether or not the ethos of this essay is what makes me believe it to be true. I’m sure most of us AP students will admit that when we’re really desperate, we’ll use some pretty frivolous (and usually unnecessary) words such as basic, status quo, exhibit, utilize, eliminate, unforgettable, triumphant, cul de sac, etc. in order to, as Orwell states, “give an air of culture and elegance” to our writing assignments. These blog posts may turn out to be perfect examples of this, actually… 😉

— Mira Bauer

While George Orwell’s topic was very broad he manages to simplify it through his arrangement of the piece “Politics and the English Language”. He decides to create a simple and understandable introduction, stating his thesis first. Orwell then goes into bold sections for each part of the English language he disagrees with such as “Dying Metaphors” and “Pretentious Diction”. This allows readers to stay more interested and connected to the piece. Knowing the topic ahead of time helps reader focus on the purpose of the essay and section of the piece.

One of my favorite things about George Orwell’s writing is his controversial and unpopular topics. He isn’t afraid to “ruffle people’s feathers” and cause arguments from his writing. An example of this in “Politics and the English Language” is his second “lesson” stating, “never use a long word where a short one will do”(378) and his disregard of foreign equivalents of English words. Topics like these raise questions with audiences and are guaranteed to start and argument. Reading his blunt opinion, no matter how unpopular it can be, is very entertaining.

George Orwell’s use of Ethos is amazing in this piece. He takes his reputation as a well known author and publishes an essay telling others how to write. Using this well renowned reputation he assumes everyone will take his advice. He backs his arguments with opinions, relying on his ethos to persuade the audience into believing him. By bashing more “classic” writer tactics Orwell gains more ethos with audience members. This is how he persuades readers to take his advice seriously.

–Caroline Steinmetz


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