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Orwellian

From Academic Kids

Orwellian describes a situation, idea, or condition which is reminiscent of the literary work of George Orwell, particularly his political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Contents

Meanings

The term "Orwellian" usually refers to one or more of the following:

  • The total control of daily life by the state, as in a "Big Brother" society;
  • The manipulation of language for political ends, most significantly by inverting the accepted definition of words;
  • Invasion by the state of personal privacy, whether physical or by means of surveillance;
  • The disintegration of the family by the state;
  • The worship of the state in a semi-religious manner;
  • Active encouragement by the state of "doublethink", whereby the population must learn to embrace inconsistent concepts without dissent;
  • A dystopian future;
  • The institutional use of ambiguous language

Big Brother

The first sense is probably the most common, and is often used to describe negatively a situation in which a Big Brother-like authority figure—in concert with "thought police"—can constantly monitor the population, in order to detect betrayal or improper thoughts. Orwellian is also used to describe oppressive political ideas, and the use of euphemistic language in political discourse to camouflage morally outrageous ideas and actions. In this latter sense, the term is often used as a means of attacking an opponent in political debate, by branding his or her policies as Orwellian.

Political language

Orwell tried to promote the use of more precise language in political discourse, and he criticised political language popular at the time, such as "running-dog lackey" and "Fascist octopus", which he said prevented thought. It seems unlikely that Orwell would have approved of many of the uses to which his pseudonym is applied. The loose definition of the term and the often, poor correlation between the real life situations people describe as Orwellian and his own dystopian fiction leave the use of the adjective at best inexact and frequently politically inaccurate. In his essay Politics and the English Language, Orwell derides the use of cliché and dying metaphors, which "even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent" and goes on to say "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

In many of his essays and letters Orwell criticised words with formally precise definitions being used badly and the vague slide in meaning for many of these words. He was a fierce critic of Fascism but he would freely mock the promiscuous use of the word:

"It would seem that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else."
-- As I Please, 24 March 1944, Tribune

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