Language Matters: An editorial critique using Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

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Language Matters

In his essay, "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell contends that the English language is decaying but that this decay should not be considered inevitable. He lists several "tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged" [682] and argues that much more than a matter of linguistic aesthetics alone, these tricks are symptomatic of--and help lead to additional--problems of sloppy and politically dangerous thinking. Using Orwell's criteria to analyze contemporary prose, it becomes immediately clear that since his essay's publication in 1946, thinking and writing have continued to decay. In Douglas R, Kmiec's L.A. Times editorial, "Family Matters," for example, the analysis of the dangers of same-sex marriage is as convoluted as the language used to analyze it. Specifically, much more than the author's lack of concrete evidence to support his argument, Kmiec's editorial suffers from its use of Orwell's "verbal false limbs," "pretentious diction," and "meaningless words."

"Pretentious diction" is possibly the most abundant trick used by Kmiec's. Orwell explains that these are words that "are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments." Kmiec uses such phrases as "possibility of begetting children," and "Judicial Court had the temerity to assert" in which his usage of the words "begetting" and "temerity" shows that he assumes his reader has as large a vocabulary as he; therefore, he seems as though he's talking down to his reader. He could have avoided this error by using the simpler "having" and "nerve" in place of the pretentious words. Further, when Kmiec uses words and phrases like "deprived" regarding same-sex couples, "responsible voices" regarding those opposed to same-sex marriage, and "religiously informed views ... are important and entitled to be heard in legislative debates," Kmeic further...