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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.

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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on 28 February 2013
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. 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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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. 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 15 July 2013
Bought this after a review on Radio 4. It was written after war was declared but before the Fall of France. Therefore it looks back at attitudes to the Nazis in the 30s, how they already seemed dated by events, but before the true horrors of the war had been unleashed (enough cliches !) . Anybody interested in 20th Century politics or history will enjoy this short read. Orwell might come across as a surprisingly "irritated middle aged ex-public schoolboy" in some of it and what he says may now be regarded as obvious (maybe some was then), but that doesn't stop it being worth a read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 March 2013
The short essay shows what Orwell considered a deplorable deterioration in the quality and clarity of English language in use at the time of publication. Using worn out phrases, phrasing which obfuscate the real meaning, an excessive use of foreign terms (at the time primarily of Greek or Latin origin) are all attacked in turn and the author does a good job of demonstrating his points with some salient examples.

In spite of the essay being a bit long in the tooth, one cannot say that the practices distressing Orwell have lessened or gone away in the meantime - quite the opposite, it has increased exponentially. As more current and extensive examples show (Unspeak: Words Are Weapons for instance), the effect can be quite damaging, in politics as well as in other walks of life.

Orwell is realistic enough to recognize that we will all continue with bad practices but is calling for more effort being devoted to sharpening the language we use, which in his view - quite correctly - also leads to sharper thinking.

In addition to the title essay, this edition also contains Orwell's review of Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' from March 1940. It is interesting reading this review, which is quite prescient in predicting the outcome of the conflict, as well as more nuanced as could be expected, given that war already broke out.

Overall the essay on the English language is something everyone should read and take to heart, be it that you write in a political, business or other context; and hopefully Orwell will shame us into making a small step towards a clearer, simpler English language.
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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 14 November 2013
What would Orwell have thought of the latest phenomenon where people use "myself" instead of me or "yourself" instead of you in the hope of making themselves sound more official. The trouble is, people fall for all this tosh. The dumber we become, the more "complicated" we write in an attempt to cover it up. And everyone just tows the line (sick) ((sic) ad infinitum)
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
So often recognised solely for his major high profile work, 1984, Orwell was of course a highly political thinker. In this absolutely miniscule volume that seems at first sight to have been somewhat of a diversion for the author. Through this text Orwell ably demonstrated the old truth that quantity does not necessarily equate to quality. The book presents a valuable treasury of interesting observations upon the use of language in its various media, and it is only as one progresses ones consideration of the presentation that it becomes clear that there is what might be seen as an essay on the political nature of language. As if proof were needed on this viewpoint the author has included an unabridged translation of 'Mein Kampf', which in its ability to draw forth a reaction of disgust at the later conduct of that books author, nonetheless illustrates the power that embeds itself within such a seemingly innocuous document. Ultimately Orwell elegantly makes his argument without even it would appear needing to euphemistically break into a sweat.
Living as we do in a world where judgments about the motivations of our fellow human are so often isolated within virtual space, inaccessible to that best judge of good character, body language, it falls to each of us to police with increase vigilance the language that our confederates use in their dealings with us in everyday life.
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on 9 May 2013
Reading Orwell's thoughts about the state of the English language and the way it was being used in politics in particular reminds one that the situation is no different these days. This is a fairly short essay which also includes some criticism of books you may want to read after reading his ideas.
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