A Terrible Blogger is Born!

May 13, 2009

Politics and the English Language

Here’s a euphemism that’s got to go: “enhanced interrogation techniques”. It’s called torture, folks. I understand, of course, why politicians use this phrase (most recently Nancy Pelosi), but why does the news media repeat it when a much more descriptive, accurate, and attention-grabbing word is available?

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
-George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946

1 Comment »

  1. Orwell’s getting some added attention over this verbal judo act. I heard this same essay quoted on NPR in a discussion about political language. The old man’s words are good as gold. We should heed them well.

    Comment by Michael — May 16, 2009 @ 2:30 am | Reply

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