Scott Morrison, the minister of truth

Scott Morrison, the minister of truth

Scott Morrison’s abuse of language ties the asylum-seeker debate in Orwellian knots.
In 1988, the British journalist Christopher Hitchens went to Prague. He had one aim: to be the first visiting writer not to mention Franz Kafka. Then he was arrested. When he asked why he was being detained, he was told he didn’t need to know. His story ended up mentioning Kafka after all.

Here is a similar exercise: write about the linguistic bastardisation of the Australian refugee debate without referring to George Orwell. You can try, but the facts will get the better of you in the end.

Continue reading

Move over George Orwell, this is how to sound really clever

Aged 17, I heard a confession that I found exhilarating. Mr Downs, my English teacher, confessed that he’d read the dictionary. Cover to cover.

A man with a big diction will often impress. But he doesn’t impress everyone. Some – such as George Orwell – argue that it’s not the length of the words that count, but how you use them. “Never use a long word where a short one will do” and “never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”, he advised in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language – the journalist’s unofficial bible.

Continue reading

The war of the words


The war of the words

How Republicans and Democrats use language

“POLITICAL language”, wrote George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” No leader will admit to having had people tortured, but Dick Cheney did say: “I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation programme”—which means the same thing. Notice how, as Orwell put it, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.”

Wars sound horrible in plain English, so they have always generated a smokescreen of euphemism. “Kinetic action” means “killing people”. “Collateral damage” means “killing people accidentally”. Politicians typically use the word “kill” only to describe what our enemies do to us; not what we do to them. In a speech in May explaining his drone warfare policy, for example, Barack Obama spoke of “lethal, targeted action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces”. As Orwell said, when “certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstrac

Orwell worried that sloppy language disguised bad ideas. Some influential Democrats today have a different complaint: that Republicans use words more skilfully to win Continue reading

Practice Essay: formal language and social harmony

Practice Essay- Section C
Write a sustained expository response. 700-800 words

a. ‘Extra-Visibility or Emphasis on Difference: In many contexts it is quite unnecessary to mention a person’s sex, race, ethnic background or other characteristics, yet such characteristics are often mentioned even at the expense of information that would have benn more relevant to the context. This is particularly true for members of minority groups. Unnecessary references of this nature should be avoided.’
Inclusive Language Policy, University of Western Sydney
b. When people talk, they lay lines on each other, do a lot of role playing, sidestep, shilly-shally and engage in all manner of vagueness and innuendo. We do this an expect others to do it, yet at the same time we profess to long for the plain truth, for people to say what they mean, simple as that. Such hypocrisy is a human universal.’
Steven Pinker, ‘Words Don’t Mean What They Mean’, Time, 6 September 2007
c. ‘(M)odern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning an inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.’
George Orwell, Politics and the English language, Horizon, April 1946
d. ‘It’s an uphill battle to get broadcasters to recognise and avoid bureaucratese, jargon, clichés and sheer pomposity. Media releases are often the source of such language but reporters who use them should weed out and replace any stilted or unidiomatic expressions that they wouldn’t normally use themselves…A politician may say, “We expect to see more ships going in and out of Sydney harbour going forward.” But journalists should be aware of how silly this cliché can make them sound, and realise that it’s redundant anyway.’
Irene Poinkin, ‘SCOSE notes’, Australian Style, April 2009

Formal language can both promote and prevent social harmony. Discuss, referring to at least two subsystems of language in your response.
This essay is a sample from Insight Publications, 2013