Anarchism and the English Language

An exchange between Kristian Williams and the CrimethInc. Writers’ Bloc – Published on CrimeInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective, by Kristian Williams, , not dated (linked with English and the Anarchists’ Language).

George Orwell, in his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” makes the case that “the English language… becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”  

The vices Orwell catalogued—vague phrases, dying metaphors, jargon, and general pseudoscientific pretentiousness—all help to sustain our boring prose. But worse, they also produce a stagnant and stifling mental atmosphere in which thought is commonly replaced with the automatic recitation of certain prescribed words or phrases “tacked together,” as Orwell memorably put it, “like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

The effect on readers is certainly bad enough, but the implications for writers are more serious still. Sometimes, of course, vague and shoddy prose—and the readiness with which such is accepted—makes it possible for a writer to deliberately pass off one thing as another, or to hide bad reasoning in a rhetorical fog. More often, however, a well-meaning writer just accepts the standard currently in use and out of witless habit uses language that alters, obscures, or nullifies his own meaning. In such cases, the writer, too, is the victim: he means to say one thing, and says another; or, he means to say something, but says nothing instead … //

… (full long text).

(Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination, and Hurt: Notes on Torture in a Modern Democracy. He is presently at work on a book about Oscar Wilde and anarchism).

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