Politics and the English Language
an essay by George Orwell, 1946
Foreign words and expressions such as
cul de sac, ancien régime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis,
status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give
an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations
i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds
of foreign phrases now current in English.
The word Fascism has now no meaning except
in so far as it signifies "something not desirable.
The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic,
justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot
be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy,
not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make
one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt
that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently
the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is
a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word
if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are
often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person
who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer
to think he means something quite different... Other words used
in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly,
are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois,
I returned and saw under the sun, that
the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither
yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding,
nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth
to them all.
Political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.
Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian
purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan,
can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal
for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed
aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist
largely of euphemism question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants
driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the
huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.
Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging
along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called
transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are
imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the
neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is
called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is
needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures
of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor
defending Russian Totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I
believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results
by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something
While freely conceding that the Soviet
régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian
may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain
curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable
concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which
the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been
amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is
a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns ...
to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting
All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass
of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word,
and not the other way about.
The following rules will cover most cases:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other
figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short
one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out,
always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can
use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific
word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English
Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful
and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity
to pure wind.