Put down that fantasy sci-fi novel and pick up “Politics and the English Language.”
By Maxell Strachan
Huffington Post (1/25/17)
In the three days since Kellyanne Conway described White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” people around the country have been searching for ways to deal with the Trump administration’s continued willingness to deceive the American public.
One place many have landed is back in 1984. Copies of George Orwell’s dystopian novel have been in high demand since Conway debuted her latest Orwellian turn of phrase. By Tuesday, the book had climbed all the way to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-sellers list, and a Penguin spokesman told CNN later that night that the publishing house had ordered 75,000 more copies of the book to keep up.
The novel, from which phrases like “Big Brother” and “doublethink” were born, is perhaps the U.K.’s most famous depiction of an authoritarian surveillance state. And much of the book, particularly its fictional thought-suppressing language, Newspeak, will seem relatable to anyone who took issue with the way Conway tried to disguise a lie as something rooted in reality. Some phrases in particular ― like, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command” ― have seemed especially relevant in the wake of Conway’s and Spicer’s attempted deception over something as indisputable as crowd size.
But whereas 1984 might be Orwell’s seminal work, it is not his most relevant today. That would be “Politics and the English Language.” …
… the final paragraph of “Politics and the English Language” is perhaps the most important one today. In the end, Orwell argues that we must fight to keep language clear. First and foremost, by being straightforward when we speak and by embarrassing those who aren’t:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.