Saturday, October 15, 2011


George Orwell, Politics and the English Language:
In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
Buzzwords can be used in order to hide intent. Politicians are notorious for this, and as a result they compose long winded empty speeches. Steven Pinker does a great job at explaining this:

Empty rhetoric also exists in the form of buzzwords. "Clinically-tested", "vitality", "angus beef", "natural", "max", etc are all hollow and empty terms.

This concept reaches farther than just the words that we think of as buzzwords. For example, since most products are exactly the same, they can all legally be referred to as being the best without justification. If you want to go ahead and state that your product is better however, you need to have a reason for saying so. When Papa John's claimed that their "fresher" ingredients made for a "better" pizza than Pizza Hut pizza, Pizza Hut sued them in federal court and won.

Another buzzword that gets thrown around is natural. A concept we associate with healthy foods. Arsenic, mercury, and radium are all one-hundred percent natural. I don't know what makes Wendy's fries any more real, or natural than the ones they had before. Sea salt doesn't change the fact that there is still salt on my fried potato. Although we may think otherwise; natural and healthy are not synonymous. Wendy's fries are still bad for you, even if they still are delicious.

Meersalz - Sea salt, I can't even escape
this bullshit in Germany!
Advertisers are always using silly little fallacies to get at you. The assurance of a clinically-tested trial for a product usually means the research was financed and published by the company itself. Going on to use these results to promote the product, or by saying something like "nine out of ten doctors agree...", or "experts say..." is a fallacious appeal to authority.

Maybe you have read something like this in a newspaper article: "Could help keep you healthy" Could -in this context means may. So it might not work. Help - Wont necessarily work on it's own. Keep - will only maintain a helthy heart, so you already need to be healthy in the first place. Sounds like a sack of bullshit to me, you would be better off exercising with the time it would take to read that article.


  1. Buzzwords are constantly thrown around in the pharmaceutical world too... makes you wonder if the entire medical system is only about making money. Nice post!

  2. Croatian politicians are experts at this. -.-'

  3. I've always wondered about language.

  4. better than any of the english lessons i remember!