This essay comes packaged with a 1940 book review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in a lovely paper pamphlet. I bought it for 99p from the London Review bookshop. Probably the only first hand book I’ve bought in months. I’m cheap, what can I say?
It is the essay where Orwell’s fabled “Rules of Writing” appear, along with an entertaining – and still deeply relevant – critique of the problems with contemporary English. Long words, pretentiousness, vagueness, use of foreign terms for nothing but intellectual self-importance… The message I took from this essay is that lessons haven’t been learnt.
Orwell provides examples from a range of texts published in the middle of the twentieth century, as well as scarily accurate impressions/parodies of the problems he sees as endemic. A lot of them reminded me of David Foster Wallace.
The main thrust of the essay is the corruption of language through politics – that the widespread use of cliche in speech, that idiom used to hide unpleasant truths (an up-to-date example would be “friendly fire”), allows people, the masses, even the writing masses, to avoid true engagement with the world, with reality. Which is not a good thing. Of course it’s not a good thing.