A few days ago at the Guardian, David Marsh brought out the stuffed body of George Orwell and propped it up in the pulpit ("Election 2010 – vote for the cliche you hate the most", 4/9/2010):
George Orwell, in his brilliant 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, wrote: "When one watches some tired [political] hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases … one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy." He memorably argued that "if thought corrupts language, language can often corrupt thought" and proposed six rules of good writing:
• 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.
The result was shocking.
Four days later, there are only 83 comments. I'm used to seeing hundreds or thousands of comments in response to invitations of this kind. And none of the comments called for cutting off tongues or fingers.
Perhaps this is because current political rhetoric in Britain is too derivative and impoverished, even in its clichés, to arouse much feeling. Or perhaps, the springs of British linguistic peeving might be drying up. In fact, several of the 83 comments questioned Orwell's rules.
But it seems that 83 is actually a large number of comments in the Guardian's current blog ecology, where yesterday's blog posts have so far gotten 1, 14, 0, 43, 0, 0, 0, 6, 2, 71, 1, … responses.
As for those rules, here are some past LL posts about aspects of Politics and the English Language:
"Orwell's Liar", 1/10/2009
"A load of old Orwellian cobblers from Fisk", 8/31/2008
"When men were men, and verbs were passive", 8/4/2006
"Passive aggression", 7/18/2006
"Fed up with 'fed up'?", 3/4/2004
"Clichés, stereotypes and other obsolete metaphors", 3/15/2004