The following is based on a presentation I give to students in a college writing composition course.
As a writer and thinker, George Orwell gave much thought to the relationship between language and politics. In his two dystopian novels Animal Farm and 1984, control over a population by an authoritarian regime is achieved partly through control over language. The ruling class pigs in Animal Farm are the only animals who can write. They literally write the rules, then selectively edit them in secret, counting on the short memories, poor literacy, and apathy of the other animals.
In 1984, the ruling party creates a language called Newspeak, with a limited vocabulary “designed to diminish the range of thought.” Inspired by Orwell’s novel, the word ‘newspeak’ has entered the vocabulary of English to refer to “propagandistic language that is characterized by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings” (Brittanica.com).
Politics and the English Language (1946)
In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, Orwell makes the point that political language is often not designed to convey information clearly, but instead to obscure truth. These tendencies are contagious, affecting even the writing of people sincerly trying to express themselves.
To address the problem of unclear writing, Orwell proposes six rules.
Before we delve into Orwell’s rules, let’s pause a moment to consider the sort of opaque political language that inspired Orwell to write them.