Orwell & Political Language Abuse
In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell educates the reader about a nearly irreversible degradation of the English language due to misuse in political-type rhetoric. In his article, Orwell shows this degradation through examples of poor proseconstruction and careful examination of writing abuses found mainly in the political forum. In order to gain the support of the reader, Mr. Orwell employs an important and unique approach to help achieve his message. He opts for a more inclusive voice and closer relationship with his audience through admission of his own shortcomings. Next, Orwell effectively uses writing samples from several authority-type figures (including two professors) to show poor proseconstruction; this allies him even further on the side of the reader. Finally, he uses extended definition paragraphs with simple, understandable, concrete examples to support his points and to finish drawing the reader over to his point of view.
Immediately in his opening sentence, Mr. Orwell engages his audience in a discussion of "Politics and the English Language" by using a familiar and comfortable word choice. He is careful to keep the tone friendly and safe, stating, "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it" (147). Notice how carefully Mr. Orwell chooses not to include himself in "Most people" (147); rather, he aligns himself with we, the reader. Through Orwell's use of conversational language and admission of his own shortcomings, he almost allows his audience to forget any anxieties or hang-ups they may have about their own political views or critical thinking skills, declaring "and for certain you will find that I again and again committed the very faults I am protesting" (155). It is as though Mr. Orwell is saying, I'm not going to talk at you! Share with me your ideas as you read on. The wording chosen and the admission of his own human error support this tone even further, allowing him to delve deeper into sacred cows which he might have not have been able to discuss if he were to take a more confrontational tone.
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Should a reader need more convincing as to whether Mr. Orwell is speaking on behalf of his reader, Orwell introduces writing samples from authority-type figures including excerpts from works by Professor Harold Laski and Professor Lancelot Hogben, to show poor prose construction; such as the following excerpt by Professor Laski:
I am not, indeed, sure whether it is true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth century Shelly had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. (148)
To this Orwell comments that aside from the passage's staleness of imagery and its lack of precision (149), the excerpt also suffers from: the use of "five negatives in fifty-three words" (153), a switch of the word "alien for akin" (153), and "general vagueness" (153). By pointing out the mistakes of an authority figure, Orwell clearly shows his own mastery of the English language without ever alienating his audience from the discussion. He never attacks his reader, he only presents them with scenarios to unravel and learn from. Orwell further claims that at its worst a bad writing style can become gummed together in "long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else" (152). This type of description -- which leads to the final strength of the Orwell article -- brings easily understood, non-threatening definition to Orwell's criticisms.
Ultimately, it is the use of short, single-paragraph extend