Advice from George Orwell


in Geek stuff, Writing

George Orwell has some good advice for making tea, barring the ghastly suggestion that you should put milk in it.

His 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” also contains some indispensable writing advice, including six simple-yet-powerful ‘rules’.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm
anonymous July 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

“First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.”

George Orwell – tea racist

. July 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm

“POLITICAL language”, wrote George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” No leader will admit to having had people tortured, but Dick Cheney did say: “I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation programme”—which means the same thing. Notice how, as Orwell put it, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.”

Wars sound horrible in plain English, so they have always generated a smokescreen of euphemism. “Kinetic action” means “killing people”. “Collateral damage” means “killing people accidentally”. Politicians typically use the word “kill” only to describe what our enemies do to us; not what we do to them. In a speech in May explaining his drone warfare policy, for example, Barack Obama spoke of “lethal, targeted action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces”. As Orwell said, when “certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract”.

Democrats can be shameless, too: the campaign ad showing Paul Ryan tossing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff was not exactly nuanced. They repeat messages aggressively: Mr Obama in 2012 never stopped reminding voters that Mitt Romney was rich. And their rhetoric is often misleading. When arguing about budgets, for example, they use the word “cut” to mean “spend less than was previously planned”. So a “savage cut” can actually be a large increase. This is such a potent subterfuge that Republicans use it too, at least when talking about military spending.

Politicians will never use language the way Orwell did, marrying clarity of thought with precision. A politician has to win elections, which means convincing lots of people with widely varying interests and opinions that he is on their side. Alas, that requires waffle, fudge and snappy slogans. These are hard to coin, as Mr Lakoff inadvertently proves. He has urged Democrats to refer to taxes as “membership fees” and to argue that “Patriotism requires Medicare for all.” Somehow, neither has caught on.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: