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Orwell on Verbal Vandalism

Pursuant to an earlier discussion in which YrsTrly expressed displeasure with those who from ulterior motives hijack words in our rich and colorful language, stripping them of their original meaning and impoverishing our tongue … the Foot of All Knowledge explains Newspeak, and what I was trying to get at. :>)

Newspeak is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, peace, etc. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as “thoughtcrime.”

Newspeak is explained in chapters 4 and 5 of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and in an appendix to the book. The language follows, for the most part, the same grammatical rules as English, but has a much more limiting, and constantly shifting vocabulary. Any synonyms or antonyms, along with undesirable concepts are eradicated. …

Orwell was inspired to invent Newspeak by the constructed language Basic English, which he promoted from 1942 to 1944 before emphatically rejecting it in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”[1]


  1. RAB says:

    The idea was, and still is…

    Without the word you cannot form the thought. Prohibit the word and you proscribe the thought.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    Yup! ;)

  3. NickM says:

    Which is entirely why, as regular readers may note, I invent words. Usually obscene but seeing as Viz was like Shakespeare to me… Then I discovered Shakespeare. I have a weakness for puns. The weakness of Orwell is the boot on the human face. 2+2=5 is far more scary. For a real scare read this:,_Uqbar,_Orbis_Tertius

    It is (I think) available for free but is also in the collections “Labyrinths” and “Complete Fictions”. I prefer the translations in “Labyrinths” though that omits “The Aleph”*. I’m not saying forget Orwell at all but the Divine Argentinian nailed it through the heart). He shoots, he scores. For me he is “Man of the Match” for sanity in C20th literature.

    *For me “Labyrinths” is better if, arguably less accurately (for a certain value of accuracy) translated.

  4. P.C. (or “Critical Theory”) language is Newspeak.

  5. NickM says:

    I don’t believe this “vandalism” exists. Words change meaning. “Gay” used to mean happy and light-hearted it now means homosexual but is increasingly used to mean weak and ineffectual as in “That Dell you got is like so gay!” Will Young was on about this in The Guardian recently and didn’t like it. Which is of course odd when you consider that “gay” meaning homosexual isn’t much older than Mr Young. But, having said that before Shakespeare “gay” did carry sexual connotations which were lost for a while hence Enid Blyton’s kids having a, “gay picnic with lashings and lashings of ginger beer”. Words change meaning all the time. That’s English for you.

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    True, Nick, but let’s not pretend that certain people don’t take advantage of that fact, pushing and nudging the language in their favoured direction. They’re less successful than they imagine – remember Dawkins trying to appropriate “bright” for his Church of Militant Atheists, in conscious emulation of “gay”? – and Newspeak was clearly Orwell showing what might happen if such efforts were taken to their ultimate conclusion, but I don’t think we should dismiss it out of hand. There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to express an idea if you don’t have words for it, and, just as importantly, easier to push a falsehood if you do. (“Social justice”, anyone? “Public service broadcasting”? “Palestinian” is a good one, too, that I bet Orwell would’ve got a kick out of.)

  7. I am told that the Swedish regime has pushed Newspeak the furthest – in order to try and make “right wing thoughts” “unexpressible”.

    However, to judge by the recent PISA education test results, Swedish children can not even read their P.C. textbooks.

    Knowledge of mathematics and science is also at the “Ug-Ug” level.

    This appears to be the end result of “Progressive” thought.

    Progress into the Stone Age.

  8. NickM says:

    Well, Sam, well bugger this! I shall post.

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