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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skinny but beautiful
This is one of the most influential how-to books in the history of English writing - up there with the greats such as The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers. Though it's only 24 pages long - quite a percentage shorter than Chicago or Strunk - it contains from the first a wealth of interesting stuff for lovers of language...
Published 19 months ago by emma who reads a lot

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An excellent essay in a poor edition
This essay is not perfect. It is certainly true that 'the great enemy of clear language is insincerity', and it is as much of a problem today as it was in the 1940s, perhaps more so. Still, I wonder whether Orwell pushes the point a little too far. 'Political language', he writes at the end, 'is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an...
Published on 28 Feb. 2013 by S. Pawley


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skinny but beautiful, 12 Aug. 2013
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emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This is one of the most influential how-to books in the history of English writing - up there with the greats such as The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers. Though it's only 24 pages long - quite a percentage shorter than Chicago or Strunk - it contains from the first a wealth of interesting stuff for lovers of language.

It's not all totally to be agreed with - whatever say Philip French, John Carey, Tom Stoppard and all the other luminaries quoted inside the front cover. Start at the beginning of that great first sentence - "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way". Orwell already has us tacitly agreeing there are few who really care about language, and that most of this minority would agree English is used in ways that render it 'ugly and inaccurate', due to 'slovenliness'.

I'm not sure about this. English actually seems to me today full of flourish, bravado, creativity, novelty, sparkiness, cheek and wit. Yet Orwell's passionate style is never hectoring, and leaves room for a reader to think whether she agrees with his carefully constructed essay. And whilst I'm not sure that in 2013 anyone uses the expression 'cul de sac' to 'give an air of culture and elegance' (I think these days it's more suggestive of depressive small-minded house-building) we have our equivalent irritating linguistic habits - just think what fun George would have had with 'medalling' and all those 'emotives' during the Olympics.

It is the second part of this 1945 essay, where Orwell deals with themes that would later appear in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that delivers the most punishing criticisms of language misuse. "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought", he writes, which could be a summary of 1984. Branding specialists are now a whole British industry in themselves, thinking up tempting names to soothe our anxious brows into consuming, but Orwell means of course political language, rather than just economic. "Designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable" : what more beautiful description of the term `collateral damage' could you wish for?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Savour the fun, note the rules, and don't overlook the review of Mein Kampf, 5 Mar. 2013
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Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules are drawn from George Orwell's 1945 essay, Politics and the English Language. Yes, it's an essay, not a whole book, and this edition, although bearing the Penguin imprint, is really no more than a pamphlet. It has a paper cover and is held together with two staples.

Orwell would have been much more familiar than ourselves with pamphlets containing serious political or other matter. And this is certainly serious matter; primarily about the English Language (how she should be wrote!), not much about politics. Orwell's explanation for the prominence of the word Politics in his title is that "All issues are political issues...."

Many readers will relish the words with which he follows that statement. Penguin reproduces them on the back cover of this edition, but I won't spoil all the fun here.

Back in 1945, the samples of bad writing that Orwell dissects in the pages leading up to his set of rules would also have been a source of 'fun'. All five samples were contemporary, and two were penned by eminent professors. Egos were surely deflated, if not enemies made.

Orwell recognises that positioning himself as a critic of the writing of others, even going so far as to set down general rules, is certain to attract criticism of his own writing. So be it, he seems to say, the mission is worth the cost. As indeed it undoubtedly is.

Dare I be at all critical of Politics and the English Language? It is almost 70 years old, and by today's standards takes a lot of space to make some fairly basic points. That may be because Orwell was so successful in making his case it was long ago accepted as a basic premise. More likely, though, it is due to our 21st century impatience with any extended discussion.

Also included in the booklet is Orwell's 1940 review of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Bearing in mind the timing - the Second World War was less than six months old and Hitler still had more than five years to live - Orwell's remarks are notably perceptive, even prophetic, and definitely still worth reading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell debunks spin and doubletalk - and explains Hitler, 31 July 2013
By 
C. O'Brien (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This wee pamphlet contains two essays: 1945's "politics And the English Language" and a 1940 review of Hitler's autobiography "Mein Kampf", which had recently appeared in a new translation.

The essay on language and style is the longer and more complex piece, essentially an attack on what we'd now call "spin". He exposes how political writers use cliche, metaphor and doubletalk to disguise their own dishonesty and persuade the public of ideas they'd probably reject if expressed more simply. At times, his observations prefigure his own invented "newspeak" and "doublethink" in his later novel "Nineteen Eighty Four". He doesn't limit himself to politics, though: he also has a go at scientific obfuscation, literary verbosity and the overuse of Latin and Greek words in preference to their simpler, Saxon alternatives.

He's right, of course - and the real triumph of this short article is that he puts over his argument with humour and humility: ("Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against".)

The shorter review of "Mein Kampf", though plainly critical of Hitler ("I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him") is the closest I've ever come to a coherent explanation of his popular appeal in Germany. "Hitler knows...that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, birth-control and in general, common sense: they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice...Hitler has said to them "I offer you stuggle, danger and death" and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet." Everything contains its opposite - after all, this isn't so very far from the nobly defensive rhetoric of Winston Churchill, urging us to fight on the beaches and offering us "blood, toil, tears and sweat".

A tiny pamphlet at just 23 pages - but a very rewarding read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short but good, 13 Mar. 2013
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hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
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I got this because I heard it raved about on radio 4. If it was half as good as they said, then everybody should read it. Or was this just radio 4 intellectual snob talk?

I didn't find it quite lived up to the expectations I had been given, but it was good, and since it offers a lot of wisdom in a very short space, I would probably agree that everybody interested in language should read it.

The content is very similar to The Complete Plain Words, which was first published not long after Orwell's essay and has been comprehensively updated more than once. Both books are delightfully written and entertaining although, while Orwell's essay takes about 10 minutes to read, The Complete Plain Words will justify many hours of study. I also recommend Strunk & Write which gives excellent advice on writing style. When I am writing I often remember its comment that a lot of bad writing comes from putting down words before the idea they are supposed to express is quite clear in your mind, or from stringing several ideas together without being sure of the logical relation between them.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An excellent essay in a poor edition, 28 Feb. 2013
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S. Pawley - See all my reviews
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This essay is not perfect. It is certainly true that 'the great enemy of clear language is insincerity', and it is as much of a problem today as it was in the 1940s, perhaps more so. Still, I wonder whether Orwell pushes the point a little too far. 'Political language', he writes at the end, 'is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind'. That is true far more often than it ought to be, but even so, it strikes me as precisely the kind of oversimplification that is the logical conclusion of Orwell's call for clarity. Politics is often complicated, and good political writing (like many other genres) needs to find ways in which to express that complexity. All the same, this is the sort of essay that is worth reading even if you are not entirely convinced by the argument, because you benefit from thinking it through. Four stars, then, for the essay.

Given Orwell's passionate call for writers to use language with care and precision, it is a terrible shame that this publication has been put together so carelessly. Some original text has been digitally scanned in a fairly clumsy fashion that has introduced numerous typo errors into the text. I counted six in twenty short pages from one reading, and there are probably more. The worst is 'turmng-away' [sic] on p. 7. These things happen, and even careful checks cannot eliminate every mistake, but at least six in the course of an essay is too many. In the old days, they would just have printed a facsimile of the original, but I assume that the digital scanning has been done to facilitate the production of the Kindle edition, which I have not seen but probably contains the same errors. It would be a shame to have so many mistakes in any book of this length, but given the subject of the essay, I found it especially disappointing. Moreover, this edition is a rather strange thing in itself. I do not see any logic behind the inclusion of the short review of 'Mein Kampf', though it is interesting to read. Neither am I quite sure of the logic behind publishing this essay alone, when it can be found in a more substantial collection, such as 'Why I write', or even the Penguin collection, 'Essays', which contains many other gems (and fewer mistakes, I would expect, though I have not double-checked). One star for the edition.

Overall, two stars. I strongly recommend the essay, but not this edition, unless you are a political writer, in which case perhaps you should keep it on your desk permanently as a reminder of pitfalls to avoid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let the MEANING choose the WORD, 3 Jun. 2013
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole Unspeak: Words Are Weapons is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell's Politics and the English Language, is prophetic. It is great that Penguin has released it in this format, therefore. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay's great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all.

In fact, at times, all the ills he describes feel just like the script of The Complete Yes Prime Minister: The Diaries of the Right Hon.James Hacker. You can hear both Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker on almost every page. Orwell's constant appeal is for clarity, honesty, truth. So here he is on metaphor:
"The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking." (p12)

But this is probably the most famous part of the essay:
"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.
... The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink." (p14-15)

The cuttlefish was on overdrive during the Iraq War, for example. Chillingly bland military jargon has become commonplace: collateral damage, friendly fire, clean bombing (i.e. accurate), coercive interrogation (i.e. torture), soften up (i.e. bomb before ground invasion).

The essay ends with this paragraph.
"Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs." (p20)

But I'll close with sentence that is perhaps key to the whole. It surely demands deep reflection from us all, but especially from those who ever have to utter or write words for the public square. And where people do not do this, we should be quick to call it out. And Orwell's masterpiece of concision and clarity will help us do that.
"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around." (p18)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart and engaging, 23 May 2013
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Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
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This pamphlet-sized publication contains George Orwell's superb 1945 essay "Politics and the English Language" and his 1941 review of Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf".

What seems at first a pedantic viewpoint of railing against bad language, grammar, and so on, like a 1940s version of Lynne Truss, becomes far more complex and thoughtful - while still being accessible to the general reader. Orwell objects to the bad use of the English language firstly as a writer himself and then moves onto a different kind of misuse of language - political language which deliberately utilises over-complicated words in an effort to mask its true intent.

At its worst, bad language, such as political language, can be used to manipulate events and ideas from sounding less heinous and corrupt than they are - he uses the example of the Soviet regime's practice of murdering dissenters to remain in power.

"Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." (p.20)

Orwell also sets out his rules for good writing which centres around his idea of simplifying language to make what you are trying to say more clear and understood to the reader.

The book review of "Mein Kampf" is interesting in itself, but also serves to underline Orwell's point in the essay preceding it. Hitler manipulates language for self-serving purposes and ends which hide his true intent of bloody murder and a dearth of real thought. He also makes several intelligent observations, one of which is that Hitler was elected on a platform that was the opposite of Soviet Russia's utopian ideals, revealing "the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life" (p.23) that the West assumed was the object of most peoples' lives.

Reading Orwell is like mentally breathing in fresh air on a crisp morning. The writing is superbly clear and direct, the ideas are fresh - still after so much time - and inspiring, and these essays are a reminder of why Orwell is such a revered figure in literature. Christopher Hitchens said it best: "Orwell told the truth". Read some truth today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise Guide to Clearer Writing, 17 April 2013
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Don't be put off by the word 'politics' in the title. This guide deals with language - spoken or written - and how to express oneself clearly in words. Orwell's rules of writing are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them, perhaps even more so in this age of grammatical vandalism. Using examples of vacuous political writing, Orwell critically shreds them, driving home the importance of clarity and specificity in language. To make his points, Orwell critiques shambolic political prose, but he could equally have used examples from religion, philosophy, journalism, literature or myriad other disciplines. This pamphlet (to call it a book would be a wild exaggeration) is short yet indispensable. In some ways it reminds me of a condensed version of Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style', thought by many to be the definitive no-nonsense guide to clear, concise writing. Unlike that book, however, Orwell's guide is subjective: he is fearless in expressing his views on not just language, but also politics, war and society. 'Politics and the English Language' is all the better for it, as Orwell's personality shines through on every page: his sticklerism, his humour (the fierce criticism of woolly political rhetoric is hilarious), his fears, his hope, and his prophetic vision of the future.

If you want to communicate more clearly, buy this pamphlet, read it often, soak up its messages and apply them to your own language, written and spoken.

I'd sum up 'Politics and the English Language' thus: the purpose of language is to communicate, not to obfuscate.

Everyone should read this little piece of mastery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating read, 21 Mar. 2013
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This 24 page pamphlet contains the essay of the title published in 1946 and an earlier essay (1940) "Review of Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler, unabridged translation".

In the first essay Orwell decries how written Anglo-Saxon English had become debased by the use of words and terms derived from classical Greek and Roman languages to lend a spurious air of authority. Many of the words he criticises have now become part of the English language and have perhaps lost their charge of foreignness. The English language has always been dynamic, absorbing "foreign" terms and words. His appeal for some sort of purity of language seems rather dated and parochial.

He also bemoans how political and journalistic writers use clichéd terms and phrases, recirculating them without interrogating them. The examples he uses are very much of their time and often bear no meaning for a 21st century reader, but the point he makes here could equally apply to more familiar phrases like "the war on terror", "strivers and shirkers", "a broken Britain" etc. He seems to sense that these are pernicious, but his argument is that these just represent intellectually lazy writing and are symptomatic of lazy thinking. He may have a point.

But we can now see that there is a more dynamic effect going on here - the attempted creation of a shared reality, the shaping of a worldview through what Foucault would later call discourses.

Much has been made over the years of Orwell's seven rules for writing good English and some may still find general agreement, such as cutting superfluous words and using shorter words where possible. But some are more debatable, such as never using foreign or scientific words and never using metaphors which others have used.

The second essay is possibly of greater historical interest, exploring the confused English response to Hitler's published ideology at the beginning of WW2. It was confused because some of ideas expressed there were in fact widely shared or at least sympathised with - e.g. the concern for genetic purity through strengthening the national gene-pool was not only confined to Nazism. But Orwell doesn't address this. Instead he goes on to argue that the "progressive" ideas of Western liberal democracy are weak, and that an ideology such as Hitler's is powerful if distasteful. He argues that aspirations to peace and harmony and equality are vapid. The natural human condition, he seems to assert, is one of "struggle, death and danger". Maybe some groups opposed to Western liberal Post-Enlightenment democracy these days may feel the same way.

There is more to unpack from these short essays, though they are very much of-their-time and clearly old fashioned in their outlook. A stimulating read, nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 6 Mar. 2013
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Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This very slim pamphlet contains two of George Orwell's pieces, his essay "Politics and the English Language" and his review (written in 1940) of Hitler's Mein Kampf.

I had read the essay before but it was good to read it again. On one level, it is a very concise guide to written style, which would help any writer to write in a clearer and more original way. He does set out six very helpful rules about writing but what is perhaps more helpful is the more general advice is that a writer should think about what he wants to say and then find the most suitable words to express his thoughts. Orwell's criticism is that people tend to apply well worn (and often frequently meaningless) phraseology which creates empty writing.

On another level, Orwell believed that this distortion on language was having a bad effect on political discourse and worse, that politicians used language to explain away terrible actions. Today, we see phrases like ethnic cleansing or extraordinary rendition and it is not clear that what we are really talking about is mass murder and forcible abduction. Orwell asks that we use more concrete language so that the meaning (however unpleasant) is clear.

This is an important essay that remains relevant today.

Having read and reviewed Hitler's Mein Kampf myself, I found it fascinating to read what Orwell had to say about it. I of course read it with the knowledge of the Second World War, the views of various historians and the events of the Holocaust in mind. Orwell writing in 1940 did not have this hindsight. What is interesting is the Orwell tries to explain the contemporary appeal of Hitler.

Until the Second World War started, Orwell noted that the property owning classes (presumably in Britain) were prepared to forgive Hitler anything because he had crushed the German labour movement and that people both on the the Left and the Right thought that National Socialism was just a form of Conservatism. Such views obviously were reassessed when war began.

Although I can't fault Orwell's analysis, I do find some of his opinions a little odd. He writes, "I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler ... I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity". My feelings are completely different. Whenever I read history books about Hitler and especially when reading of Mein Kampf, I feel an unpleasant nausea at such a deeply unpleasant person. Still, well worth a read - it's not very long.
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