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Another passive-hating Orwell wannabe

I'm grateful to Peter Howard and S. P. O'Grady, who within an hour or so both mailed me a link to this extraordinarily dumb article by James Gingell in The Guardian. As Howard and O'Grady pointed out, Gingell's wildly overstated rant illustrates a point I have made on Language Log many times before: that when language […]

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Orwell's Liar

Orwell's Politics and the English Language is a beautifully written language crime, though it pretends to lay down the law. Furthermore I just noticed that its final law is rather curious. We'll get to that shortly. Orwell begins with the unjustified premise that language is in decline – unjustified because while he viciously attacks contemporary cases […]

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A load of old Orwellian cobblers from Fisk

As unneeded further testimony to the lasting damage done by George Orwell's dishonest and stupid essay "Politics and the English language", with its pointless and unfollowable insistence that good writing must avoid all familiar phrases and word usages, Robert Fisk treated his readers in The Independent on August 9 to some ranting about his most […]

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"Is it the passive voice you don't like?"

Mary Harris, "Newsflash: Coronavirus Ain’t Going Nowhere", Slate 8/9/2021: I was a little hesitant to speak with Dr. Bernard Ashby. Ashby works in Florida, taking care of COVID patients. He is bearing witness to that state’s record-breaking surge of infections at the moment. It’s not that I didn’t think Ashby would have interesting things to […]

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The Passivator reborn

I've been resisting topics like "words for coup" and "the meaning of insurrection" — we'll see how long that resolve lasts — but this morning's distraction is the rebirth of something I wrote about many years ago, namely an online service for identifying instances of passive-voice verbs. In my review of 'The Passivator" (4/6/2004), I […]

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Memes, parodies, puns, and other devices for discussing the coronavirus inside the Great Firewall

In the PRC, you'd best not say anything about COVID-19.  It's more or less forbidden for citizens to talk about it, much less question the government's handling of the CRISIS (not a "dangerous opportunity").  Even the name and the very existence of the disease are highly problematic.  Still, despite all the draconian censorship, people figure […]

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Chinese coronavirus linguistic war

From a Taiwanese colleague: In the struggle against Wǔhàn fèiyán 武漢肺炎 ("Wuhan pneumonia"), Taiwan has to fight the war on three fronts: (1) trying to stop the virus at its borders; (2) trying to join the WHO for world-wide collaboration and disease information; and (3) fighting against the Communist Chinese dictatorial linguistic policies.  The linguistic […]

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The PRC censors its own national anthem

The people are outraged at what happened to a doctor named Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital who called attention to the outbreak of the coronavirus on December 30, 2019, before it became an epidemic.  Instead of the government praising him, they sent police to threaten and harass him, as part of their effort to […]

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Rhetoric in Troll-land

Anton Torianovski, "A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’", WaPo 2/17/2018: You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would make up an act. We had to make it look like we […]

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Bad words on WeChat: go directly to jail

With over 980 million monthly active users, WeChat is an extremely popular messaging app in China.  However, in the Orwellian climate of the PRC, you had better watch your language carefully, lest you get whisked off to jail without trial.  Here are some words that can result in your incarceration:

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Removing needless words

Yesterday I was skimming randomly-selected sentences from a collection of English-language novels, and happened on this one from George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words." This brought to mind two things I had never put together before, Orwell on Newspeak and Strunk on style.

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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two: Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate […]

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Will "Arrival" bring linguistics into the popular consciousness? A guest post by Luke Lindemann

The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist as the heroic protagonist, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean […]

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