Macaulay Honors College Seminar 2, IDC 3001H

Politics and the English Language

We didn’t really have any significant discussions this week, so it was really tough for me to come up with a topic for this post. Although it didn’t have anything to do with immigration, I did hear one small conversation that came up on Wednesday in which we discussed the use of language. Some claim that in word choice using the simpler word is always the better option. One of the main proponents of this view was George Orwell. Orwell is a writer most famous for his works 1984 and Animal Farm. He also explored his view on language itself in his essay called “Politics and the English Language.” He claims that our use of language is the result of the political climate of the time. Politics he claims is what dictates the use of language which ultimately influences how we think. Some political bodies, like Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, used big words and euphemisms to cover up lies and make atrocities sound moral. This would cause the people of those countries to use the same unclear language by believing those lies. In of the most telling passages Orwell writes:

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.”

Orwell makes a really interesting side point that everything is a political issue.  He was writing in 1946 and it seems to be even more truthful now. Every argument now seems to have a political undertone.

The other point he made was that politics is a “mass of lies…”. This seems to be one of the prevailing reasons why Donald Trump won the presidency. People became fed up with the typical political establishment viewing them as a mass of lies, and Trump represented a change from that. Although, he may not be so innocent as we have learned in the news.

Works Cited


  1. Will Zeng

    Hi Eddie!
    What a coincidence! That exact article was one of the first things I had to read for my English class this semester. We had a really interesting conversation and touched upon a lot fo the point that you brought up! However, one of the most interesting takeaways I got from that discussion was the fact that Orwell, in that article, which seemed to critique bad writing, he writes with some of the worst English of his career. His writing was complicated, convoluted, full of obscure words, and difficult to comprehend. This is a stark difference from the way that Orwell usually writes. In Animal Farm or 1984, the only complicated things are the topics he discusses but Orwell talks about them in clear and concise prose.

    I felt that Orwell wrote this as tongue-in-cheek satire, giving readers an example of what not to do while at the same time teaching them the power of clear writing.

  2. Evan Harris

    I believe that what words a person uses may have a political influence, but I don’t think that means that we should totally throw out the use of complex words from our vocabulary. I believe that while most writing should be simple it is always nice to see a word that has a few more letters and syllables. I remember that one of the words we mentioned was “plethora”, and I have always been a big fan of using the word. I believe that most readers are impressed by big words every now and again, and using an impressive word makes a writer feel more accomplished.

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