Total Posts:11|Showing Posts:1-11
Jump to topic:

'Politics and the English Language'

Man-is-good
Posts: 6,871
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/4/2011 9:48:36 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
I have recently read Orwell's paper on the degeneration of the English language, and I found it to be rather interesting...Orwell lists numerous 'tricks' of bad writers, and characteristics of bad prose writing, including 'dying metaphors', 'pretentious diction', and so forth.

Does anyone think that this paper is still relevant to English classes today, and more generally, the current form of the English language? Does anyone disagree with Orwell's views? If so, please explain why.
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
Logic_on_rails
Posts: 2,445
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/5/2011 6:14:01 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 8/4/2011 9:48:36 AM, Man-is-good wrote:
I have recently read Orwell's paper on the degeneration of the English language, and I found it to be rather interesting...Orwell lists numerous 'tricks' of bad writers, and characteristics of bad prose writing, including 'dying metaphors', 'pretentious diction', and so forth.

Does anyone think that this paper is still relevant to English classes today, and more generally, the current form of the English language? Does anyone disagree with Orwell's views? If so, please explain why.

An interesting paper (read most of it before being called away...) . Got to say that I pride myself on the use of a lot of the things he denounces...

While I believe that Orwell is correct in most of what he says, I believe that there are bigger, more pertinent issues facing English as a language. Put simply, the use of ever more vulgar / obscene words, a lack of proper grammatical structure while speaking, use of what my friend calls 'initialisms' (Ie. 'OMG' is an officially recognised word by the Oxford English dictionary) and things like saying 'cool' as opposed to cool as (x thing) are bigger issues. Also, sensationalism in the media is a serious problem.

What Orwell addresses is of relevance. However, I would much rather deal with a person committing some of the fallacies Orwell talks about than be an incoherent idiot who uses the above ideas. Ie. I think it's fine to inject some foreign words into speech in order to gain some cache or class, but don't really like the increased use of swear words.

Of course, maybe I'm just old in my tastes as a teenager. I'm currently listening to Paul McCartney after all...
"Tis not in mortals to command success
But we"ll do more, Sempronius, we"ll deserve it
Man-is-good
Posts: 6,871
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/6/2011 11:25:40 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
Well, it is possible that the relevance of Orwell's writings and pondering on the 'English language' is somewhat qualified by the time of composition. As of the current, approximately seven decades have passed, along with conventions, phraseology, and other fields of writing.

I do agree with your point, that foreign words can be utilized as a way to enrich one's speech and syntax. In addition, I do disagree with Orwell's advocacy for Plain English...since it is an absolute, though I would like to moderate it with an emphasis on the balance of homely words, which are simple and conventional, and more 'irrelevant words'--such as pontificate, exploit, somatic, profligate, and so on. Simple words can be used, in particular, for mood and to facilitate expression through clarity. The complex, and often 'Latin' words--as Orwell calls them, are however better in illustrating certain, and more specific meanings, and can help one vary one's range of expression.

In addition, I would argue (assuming that I am debating Orwell on this subject) that the short excerpts that he has shown to the reader, and even his 'translation' of the Biblical verse, only emphasize the extreme, and do not indicate that any usage of 'dead metaphors' or 'pretentious diction' will guarantee mediocrity. His excerpts come from a few of the worst, and most pompous, writings that I have even read, which is perhaps a sign of confirmation bias. [[I remember laughing when I read his translation 'Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena....' because it was so superfluous, and redundant in meaning, as well as a testimony to some of the verbosity of the time period]]. How would you view this approach, Logic?
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
000ike
Posts: 11,196
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/6/2011 11:45:24 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
Sometimes when striving for superior diction I find that we lose the very purpose of a language. We have English so that we can communicate do we not? We have higher level prose and vocabulary so that we can communicate more obscure and complex messages do we not? We have rules of grammar so that every one can refer to the same law for what is and is not proper do we not? Even if English is strayed to a variation that is not what Orwell recognizes as "proper English," so long as it fulfills it's purposes, is there really just ground upon which to complain?
"A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more strongly with the chain of their own ideas" - Michel Foucault
Man-is-good
Posts: 6,871
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/7/2011 12:01:28 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 8/6/2011 11:45:24 PM, 000ike wrote:
Sometimes when striving for superior diction I find that we lose the very purpose of a language. We have English so that we can communicate do we not? We have higher level prose and vocabulary so that we can communicate more obscure and complex messages do we not? We have rules of grammar so that every one can refer to the same law for what is and is not proper do we not? Even if English is strayed to a variation that is not what Orwell recognizes as "proper English," so long as it fulfills it's purposes, is there really just ground upon which to complain?

Orwell's own point, that he was characterizing language as being fit for the communication of ideas, I believe, and voices, does contradict his tirade against 'pretentious diction' or usage of conventional language, since one can easily counter that such usage, in particular situations, can be used to adequately voice one's opinions or thoughts.

And honestly, yes, there is really no ground to complain. I found Orwell's paper hilarious, but rather tiresome with his rants against the political writing (especially of a Communist pamphlet) and other writing. I wish he'd spend more time poking out the infelicities of those writings, than complaining about the degeneration of the English language.
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
Logic_on_rails
Posts: 2,445
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/8/2011 1:38:45 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 8/6/2011 11:25:40 PM, Man-is-good wrote:
Well, it is possible that the relevance of Orwell's writings and pondering on the 'English language' is somewhat qualified by the time of composition. As of the current, approximately seven decades have passed, along with conventions, phraseology, and other fields of writing.


I think so. Even with what I would consider an above average knowledge of English, some of the expressions used were a bit dated. As for relevance, there is a fair amount of relevance, but I maintain that there are greater 'problems' (quoted because it is my view) to be dealt with in the modern English language.

I do agree with your point, that foreign words can be utilized as a way to enrich one's speech and syntax. In addition, I do disagree with Orwell's advocacy for Plain English...since it is an absolute, though I would like to moderate it with an emphasis on the balance of homely words, which are simple and conventional, and more 'irrelevant words'--such as pontificate, exploit, somatic, profligate, and so on. Simple words can be used, in particular, for mood and to facilitate expression through clarity. The complex, and often 'Latin' words--as Orwell calls them, are however better in illustrating certain, and more specific meanings, and can help one vary one's range of expression.


I agree here, although I understand Orwell's sentiments on plain English. I think that the main problem is not so much word choice but the overuse of phrases, essentially making them meaningless. Orwell addresses this though.

In addition, I would argue (assuming that I am debating Orwell on this subject) that the short excerpts that he has shown to the reader, and even his 'translation' of the Biblical verse, only emphasize the extreme, and do not indicate that any usage of 'dead metaphors' or 'pretentious diction' will guarantee mediocrity. His excerpts come from a few of the worst, and most pompous, writings that I have even read, which is perhaps a sign of confirmation bias. [[I remember laughing when I read his translation 'Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena....' because it was so superfluous, and redundant in meaning, as well as a testimony to some of the verbosity of the time period]]. How would you view this approach, Logic?

As Orwell himself states, he has likely committed many of the mistakes of which he has condemned. I personally thought that that translation was rather off myself, and can't quite believe that it was common at any point in the English language. As I stated earlier, he does correctly point out the overuse of things like 'free people of the world' or democracy meaning more than it is. These trends continue today. Personally, my favourite one was the 'modern' defence of Russian totalitarianism.

To put things simply, Orwell addresses what he considers to be the prime factor in the degradation of English. However, although I would agree with things such as the media promoting poor English habits, there are other factors in English that should be addressed with greater urgency.
"Tis not in mortals to command success
But we"ll do more, Sempronius, we"ll deserve it
Andromeda_Z
Posts: 4,151
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
8/9/2011 2:23:36 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 8/9/2011 2:19:06 AM, ruelariat wrote:
Does anybody have a link to the paper? I would be interested in reading it but I can't seem to find it anywhere.

Here's a pdf: http://mla.stanford.edu...