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The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and linguistic relativism

One linguistic theory which was being discussed during Orwell’s lifetime was the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which has two forms

  • Linguistic determinism (strong)- the language you speak determines the way that you will interpret the world around you

  • Linguistic relativism (weak)- the language you speak influences the way that you will interpret the world around you

Politics and the English Language (1946)

“The word fascism  has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable” the words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotism, realistic, justice, have each of them several meaning which cannot be reconciled with one another, in the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all the sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of evert kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning”

Language without thought

“A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be as if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may almost be unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. This reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity”

Euphemisms as a way of avoiding unpleasant images

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set of fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants robbed of their farms are sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification or frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trail, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in artic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such as phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.


The rules according to George Orwell

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print

  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out

  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous

How can these rules


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