Politics and the English Language

Essay by seren1516College, UndergraduateA, October 2008

download word file, 20 pages 5.0

Downloaded 79 times

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a badway, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Ourcivilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in thegeneral collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimentalarchaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this liesthe half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape forour own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: itis not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become acause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so onindefinitely.

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all themore completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the Englishlanguage. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness ofour language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process isreversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread byimitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid ofthese habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward politicalregeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concernof professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the...