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  • Tuesday, February 01, 2005


    Word-Watch: Orwell Reborn

    The following excerpt is from a piece called Word-Watch: Orwell Reborn by Sean Gonsalves. The use and misuse of words by both the media and the government has reached epic proportions in my opinion. The current flap over whether to call the proposed Social Security changes "personal" accounts or "private" accounts is a prime example. The Bush Administration called them private accounts until it was found that people over 50 really disliked the whole privatization concept. They then changed the term to "personal accounts" and began insisting that the media toe the line on the word change. See my recent post on "patriotism" for other thoughts on language. I think Mr. Gonsalves is onto an important aspect of our shallow and often misleading national dialogue.

    Witness the thought-police out in full force, cloaked in "patriotism." Any criticism of our government's policies is popularly labeled "anti-American."

    Notice the proliferation of false, child-like dichotomies such as "either you're with us or against us" and "we're-good, they're evil," international law, the Geneva Conventions and Abu Ghraib aside.

    In his essay on "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell offers this penetrating insight:

    "One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark, its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.
    "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."

    It is with that preface that I announce the rebirth of this column as a vehicle for exploring the political language of our day, an effort to "simplify," as Orwell did; to expose "stupid remarks" in all of their obvious "stupidity." The assumption I'm operating on is the same that Orwell implicitly offered; namely that it is dangerous and wrong-headed to "make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

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