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Editors' Note: This article first appeared in Patheos online and is part of the Patheos Public Square on Faith and the Election. You can find the article here.
"Political chaos is connected with the decay of language... one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end." —George Orwell.
In George Orwell’s brilliant dystopian novel 1984, the party leaders of the totalitarian state Oceania restrict the thought and freedom of their subjects by reducing their vocabulary and debasing their language.
The institution of “Newspeak”—a flattening of language to collapse moral, aesthetic, and analytical distinctions, and reduce the sublime, beautiful, brave, kind, peaceful, delicious, dedicated, or ecstatic to the “good,” “plusgood” or “doubleplusgood”—was a means of not only controlling the public conversation, but also private thought. The individual self-expression, precision of thought, analysis and critique; and aesthetic delight made possible by linguistic mastery could be prevented—rendered unthinkable—by limiting language to its most blunt, base, and controllable.
As with all great novels, 1984 bears salience for our own (significantly different) time. By several measures, our public vocabulary is... Read more