Tag Archives: weasel words

You better watch the things you say

orwellAlmost 70 years ago George Orwell wrote “Politics and the English Language,” an admonitory essay that foreshadowed his dystopian novels 1984 and Animal Farm.

Orwell warned against the loose use of language or, more exactly, the weasel use of language. As in saying one thing and meaning, deviously, something altogether different. Weasel uses, he suggested, are especially prized in politics, for they give the ruling classes the linguistic and psychological tools they need to brainwash the general population.

… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow.

These examples are very familiar to anyone who’s sat through a politician’s or an executive’s or a bureaucrat’s speech.

But I think of Orwell now especially in this season of renewed political discussion — the start of the 1916 presidential race, almost two years ahead of the election — because the air is already full of political bullshit, pardon my French. (Why do we always blame the French for forthright speech, pace Charlie Hebdo?)

When we hear political phrases, newly popular, like “Citizens United,” the Koch Brothers’ PAC to separate and further emasculate the citizenship (by conferring personhood on corporations) and “Right to Rise,” Jeb Bush’s PAC to keep the underclasses, all of them, in their place, a group we might more accurately call “Right to Trickle Down from Dives’ Table,” can we stop vomiting?

Where politics is just another product we pick off the shelf, something we buy in the meretricious market where slogans pose as ideas, who notices? What harm is done? Simply to the way we think, and be, and interact with our fellow man, if we grant such thing — beyond our solipsistic zone — as fellow man.