Embedded in my good friend Farooq Kperogi’s grammar column this week is a reminder of George Orwell’s astute writings on political speech. Kperogi writes:
George Orwell was the first notable person to call attention to this type of language usage. In his famous 1946 essay titled, “Politics and the English language,” he said, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
This is done, he pointed out elsewhere, through staleness of imagery and lack of precision. The expression “Kenyans have made up their minds” is certainly not only stale but also fraudulently imprecise. No one, not least the politicians, have conducted any scientific opinion poll to determine whether or not Kenyans have made up their minds on any issue. The expression is intended only to anesthetize the Kenyan population into a false sense of consensus with the points of views of the politicians making the claims. But more than this, it’s also convenient and ready-made; it doesn’t require any thinking to say it.
Orwell identified three features of the political language of his time: dying metaphors, verbal false limbs, and pretentious diction. This is true of our time too.
Indeed. I need to go back and re-read Orwell’s essay.