Politics and the English Language (p. 954)
I have not quoted Orwell in awhile because the main purpose of reading his Essays book is to springboard off it into my own thinking. Many times I write about things that are not directly related to the selection I read because I expound upon his content thematically, rather than substantively. Like an ember that causes a new fire to burst out, Orwell provokes new, explosive thoughts, doesn't just inform me into mid-20th century life.
Some passages I read are just too significant to use as springboards. I say this because despite my purpose being intellectual and artistic growth, sometimes Orwell's work needs to be exactly transmitted because it is so applicable to current culture. I will still bring something of my own to to table, but in situations like this the main focus are his words, not mine.
This selection involves euphemisms, or inflated, bloated devices used to convey less socially agreeable truths in a more palatable way. I have identified three significant problems with euphemisms: One, they alter the original meaning, two, they become socially addictive, and three, they become invisible.
Euphemisms alter meaning because subjective comfort is chosen over the harshness of raw truth. It is convenient to believe comfort and truth can co-exist, but this issue brings up an issue my teacher has critiqued of me many times. He accuses me of "going to Pluto and back" in my rhetorically-saturated arguments. What happens when one goes to Pluto is they lose their audience, because it is all about the self's feelings toward the material, rather than objective conveyance of the actual material. The audience thus hears diluted noise, all because the speaker spoke euphemistically, or subjectively-inflated. Keep in mind euphemisms may seem innocuous and polite, but when you involve another thinking, feeling human being (the audience), conveying meaning and understanding clearly and effectively becomes strained, if not impossible. Thus, the original meaning is lost, replaced with subjective comfort.
The second reason euphemisms are problematic is they become socially addictive. Playing politics and saying the socially comfortable thing is so supported in our society that it creates a druggish temptation to do it whether or not we are even attempting to convey meaningful things. Even self-reflection becomes infiltrated by comfort-based euphemism, which encourages and endorses self-deception, or flights from inner reality. Believe me, as both a fiction and non-fiction writer, I use and rely on multiple tools to transmit what I want to say, so I am not going to claim those who want to use euphemisms are inherently defective wordslingers. Their desire to communicate more creatively to their audience is admirable, however relying on this mechanism is misguided and self-limited. Euphemisms want us to subjectively feel accepted, rather than more effectively communicative. Once we clear up that distinction, we can move stave off the nasty addiction and choose, rather than react.
The third reason euphemisms are problematic actually piggybacks the second reason, yet its significance warrants individual emphasis. Our escapes from the ugliness and harshness of reality via euphemisms becomes a habit after we practice it long enough, thus becoming invisible and second nature. Avoidance of confronting uncomfortable truths, or non-socially palatable statements, thus becomes a goal as much as a process, and we end up surrounding ourselves with others who do the same. We avoid those bold enough to care harshly; aka, call us on the carpet. Euphemisms thus create alternate realities endorsing an unwillingness to correct our mistakes, judge ourselves, and affect change. Playing with words and constructing creative ways of reaching audiences is one thing, but playing with words to deflect the harshness of the meaning is counter-intuitive to our literary and intellectual task.
Orwell provides six tips for maintaining concise language, to the end of conveying meaning clearly. In other words, these are anti-euphemism devices, or devices designed to help curb the drive for politicking in favor of the medicinal factor of bare truth.
"1. Never use a metaphor, similar, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of the rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."
Now it may seem that these are not directly related to social comfort, but that is only because social comfort is a sidle-mechanism. It creeps up on you, little by little, corrupting your very ability and will to quell your politicking and rhetoric and just look at your naked self. Mechanisms that endorse social comfort over the ugly truth always break some of these rules, because our vices just love to hear themselves speak, lavishing themselves in self-righteous rhetoric. Avoiding euphemisms fosters creativity without mutating meaning.
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