West Chester University

Fall 2004and
Spring 2005

West Chester University

Spring 2003

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001






Course Information
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements
  LIT 165 Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assigmments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
  Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Notes on 'Before the Law'
  Samuel Beckett Links
  Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
  Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
  Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
  Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
  DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
  Suggested Readings: Independent Project
  Utopia/Dystopia Links
  Character Analysis: Brave New World
  Analyzing the Brave New World
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on the Brave New World
  A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Dante Links
  Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
  Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
  Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
  Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
  Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
  Introducing Canto I
  Approaching the Divine Comedy
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
  Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
  The Birthmark
  Leaf By Niggle
  Responses to Leaf By Niggle
  'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
  Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
  Analyzing the Mythic Tales
  The Four Functions of Myth
  Myth and Metaphor
  Myth - Links
  Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
  'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
  Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
  Alice In Wonderland
  The Metamorphosis

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
  Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
  Commentary: Following Up Your Response
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources
  What is Argument?
  Parts of an Argument
  Casebook Assignment Sheet
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
  Expressive Writing
  Short Stories About Identity
  Thoughts on Stories About Identity
  Poems About Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Mind-map: Identity

ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
  ENG Q20 Syllabus
  Frederick Douglass Excerpt
  Propaganda Analysis
  How to Detect Propaganda
  George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda Analysis Exercise

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library


~~ George Orwell's
"Politics and the English Language" ~~

George Orwell is—after Frederick Douglass—our next really formidable, really first rate writer. And like Douglass, reading his words can be both inspiring and instructive-as long as we take our time and understand his meaning. Just like Douglass, Orwell is a political animal, deeply involved in the crises and movements of his day. Even his imaginative literary masterpieces, 1984 and Animal Farm, were politically motivated, powerful expressions of his deeply held belief in the evil of totalitarianism and his conviction that danger resides where people turn from clear thinking and blindly follow orthodoxies.

In "Politics and the English Language" we're asked to consider the connection between corrupted (and corruptive) language and political manipulation.

In "Politics and the English Language" we're asked to consider the connection between corrupted (and corruptive) language and political manipulation. Specifically, we are asked to consider whether "ugly" language (defined as staleness of imagery and lack of precision) contributes to muddy or "foolish" thinking. Orwell believes it does, although the process is anything but simple. Political and economic pressures produce ugly language, which then produces foolish thinking; but then, foolish thinking produces even uglier language, and the cycle continues. For Orwell, this was not a purely philosophical or academic problem; the essay moves towards a position which links the degeneration of language with the rise of totalitarianism.

Is the connection between "Politics and the English Language" and the previous material on propaganda fairly obvious, or just a little bit subtle? The previous material instructed you to recognize the tools of the propagandist, how he uses language-everything from name-calling and card-stacking and euphemisms, you name it-to manipulate and gain influence. While Orwell doesn't specifically discuss "propaganda" by that exact term, he makes the case that political writing (including speech writing) is "bad" because, like propaganda, it renders language practically meaningless, muddying thought and destroying rational decision-making. His essay analyzes the corrosive trends in the writing of his day, but decades later, we can still share his disgust and still find a million examples to prove that bad writing (or speaking) is a cause of the public's blindness.

Orwell explores the function of language in this essay; he analyzes how the corruption of language gives rise to massive political conformity, a consequence that makes the propagandists shiver all over in victory thrills. With Hitler a recent nightmare and Stalin beginning his purges, and others in the wings, the threats were real enough. The power of political propaganda was in the air. Bad writing was in the air. Muddy thinking was in the air.

For Orwell, "bad writing" is stale writing. He blames "stale imagery" for a host of writing ills. What exactly does he mean? What is a stale image? It's something you've heard before. In fact, the more you keep hearing it, the more you realize you've heard it maybe a thousand times. Maybe a million. You've heard it so many times, you don't even think about it anymore. That's it's special mission-to enable you not to think about it anymore. It does your thinking for you. All you have to do is register your attention for a nanosecond-that's all the thinking that's required.

We can do better, America! Better than what? What will we do exactly to be "better"?

I'm the candidate of Hope. Hope for what? Are we hoping for the same thing? All tens of millions of us? What exactly are we hoping for? How will we know when our hopes are answered if we don't even know what we're hoping for?

I want to protect America. Protect it against what? Foreign enemies? The freedom of its own citizens?

It doesn't matter what these phrases mean. We've completely stopped thinking about them. They sound familiar, they sound pretty good. They're stale as hell, but that doesn't stop politicians from using them. In fact, they like to use stale language like this because it's so much less likely to require us to think.

Why is Orwell so against staleness of imagery and imprecision with words? It's not just the pain of empty language, although sometimes it is that. But more importantly, staleness and imprecision are odious because they lead to vagueness, which (especially in politics) can lead to anything. Meaning is sometimes deliberately manipulated. Rather than doing their real job which is to clarify meaning, slack or hack writers open channels through which "the ready made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you-even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent-and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself."

These ready and endlessly repeated bromides are what permeate the air as we inch towards our presidential election. It'll be a good intellectual challenge for you to begin to identify them, expose them-on both sides.

Further along in his essay, Orwell catalogues a few of the more prominent vices:

  • Dying metaphors (worn out clichés that originally were fresh metaphors)
  • Operators, or false limbs (wordy phrases that could be single words)
  • Pretentious diction (wraps what could be clarified in a hazy vagueness)
  • Meaningless words (abstractions that are so open to interpretation that they don't say anything precise anymore, although once they might have)

He uses examples culled from professional writing to illustrate these mind-numbingly disastrous trends he's observed all around him. He really drives the point home when he translates Ecclesiastes into "ugly" modern prose.

Orwell insists that the corrosiveness of modern prose is in the air we breathe and when we need the "right" phrase, it just floats down to us ready-made, easy to assemble, euphonic and effortless. The only way to keep ourselves from becoming degenerates, part of the problem, is to consciously ask a few relatively simple questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have any effect?

And two more:

  • Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

And then to follow some simple advice (p. 172):

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If we follow Orwell's advice, maybe we can rescue language from the power-grip of advertisers, propagandists, politicians, and others who would subvert it as our primary instrument for creating and expressing thought.






Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001-2005 by Stacy Tartar Esch.

The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.