Orwell On The Value Of Good Writing

Now, it is 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 individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. Read more»

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (HT: Stella Morabito)

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  1. Thank you for this post. I read Eric Arthur Blaire’s (George Orwell) essay on ‘The Value of Good Writing’. As a highschool and college student these guidelines would have improved my grades. But I could not access them because I was so insulted by the worldview of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, the planned cruelty that prevails on FaceBook. However, after seeing the darkness of the fallen world outside of me and now in my flesh, because I am a Christian, telling the truth about the cruelty of our nature defines the enemy.

    In C.S.Lewis comparison of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’, Lewis recognizes the brilliance of Orwell’s ‘genius’ in myth, using an economy of words and images to portray social failure of Totalitarian ideology . Who really wrote the Essay? Blaire or Orwell?

  2. It’s a bit ironic that you would share this essay, given Orwell’s opposition to the ingress of latinate forms into English and your own advocacy of Latin education. The problem with the position that Orwell takes, that the language is being degraded through misuse, besides lack of empirical support, is the relative subjectivity of what constitutes “good English” and what is substandard. He says Germanic roots and grammar are good English and everything else is substandard. Other disagree. Who is to say what’s right? Orwell would likely oppose your use of Latin theological vocabulary, for example, and suggest Germanic alternatives. Why use “ex opere operato” when you could use “self-working”? Or even “merit” when you could use “deservingness”? After all, it’s more genuine English to say “self-made deservingness” than “condine merit”, and the meaning is the same.

    • Charles,

      I’m not a bigot. I try to learn from and appreciate a variety of writers. His point about the connection between clarity of expression and politics stands regardless of his view of the history of English. Certainly the political correctness movement flourishes by emotive and vague expression.

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