The Evils of Rhetoric and Jargon

The English, like Johnson, seem keen to preserve the "Englishness" of the English language as it adapts to the social and economic context of its newer geographical locations. American spelling and vocabulary is little less condemned in England today than in was at the dawn of American independence. We should note that linguistic "patriotism" seems to have outlived any other superficially more sinister jingoistic streak in the civilised world, with little justification. The question which must arise from the often absolutist views of language presented in this survey of attitudes towards language preservation is surely that of how one may define "eloquent" in opposition to the "vulgar". Today, open distaste for social division has arisen, all for the good, and when democratic ideals in much of the English-speaking world suggest that it is the majority that has the power to decide what is "right", how can linguistic fascism continue unchallenged?

George Orwell tackled contemporary use of the English language from this angle in his essay Politics and the English Language(1946). His premise is seemingly a practical one:

"Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits... If one gets rid of these bad habits one can think more clearly [as a] first step towards political regeneration"

Although once again we notice the prescriptive wish to "improve" language after the identification of its abuse - the culprits of which are fiercely lambasted in Orwell's essay - the reader is provoked into sensing that the misuse of language is a betrayal of a democratic state. The reason why this account rises above the now somewhat amusing frustrations of the pedantic but well-meaning Jonson and Swift is that Orwell targets not some petty aspect of monosyllable usage or spelling but the veiling of nonsense or lies. He refers to the examples he gives as "a catalogue of swindles and perversions" and such terminology gives the essay a post-world war political urgency and venom that leaves the reader feeling accused and inevitably guilty to some degree. His condemnation of euphemistic language recalls the artificial language of mind- control, "Newspeak", in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His argument in both cases continues to startle because his subject is the capacity of language abused to "make lies sound truthful and murder respectable". So, while the essay is as prescriptive in its identification of faults and suggestions for improving English, its scope is language in general and the more convincing for it. It is not, as the author himself insists, "something frivolous and... the exclusive concern of professional writers". This is to a large extent what differentiates the discussion of the upkeep of the English language between Jonson and the present day.

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