Exploration 11: Politics and the English Language


in “1984” noted author George Orwell described a fictitious language called Newspeak in which words were used to convey the opposite of their normal meaning. (Lewis Carroll made a similar point in a different way in “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” which you should read immediately if you have not already done so.) For example, the motto of his dystopian (= negative utopian) state was: WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH Real-life examples of this tendency abound, most commonly in the area of national security. In 1947 the War Department was renamed the Defense Department. (How can anyone be against defense?) An Air Force officer during the Vietnam war actually said, We had to destroy the village in order to save it. And the intelligence community has long used euphemisms to describe its activities e.g., killing becomes terminating with extreme prejudice. For this assignment, find two articles in the Boston Globe or the New York Times in the area of national security. Discuss the articles and show how the language used in them is Orwellian. What do you think accounts for this tendency? (Orwell, after all, was talking about totalitarian societies, not democracies.) Your essay should be approximately two pages.