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Politics and the English Language (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Jan 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (3 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141393068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141393063
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 0.3 x 18 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), better known by his pen-name, George Orwell, was born in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. An author and journalist, Orwell was one of the most prominent and influential figures in twentieth-century literature. His unique political allegory Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with the dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame. His novels and non-fiction include Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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