The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
Whenever people think of Orwell today they usually think also of security cameras and ‘Big Brother’. Orwell represents much more than that. He saw that language and writing can be perverted to deceive people rather than inform them. If we remember that single lesson then his legacy will remain secure.
Because we are lied to all the time, in ways so routine they are beneath conscious notice, even the most direct lies are losing their power to shock us.
All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. [..] But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.
You can do anything you want with an idea. It can be as big as you want. It doesn’t have to solve a minor problem that nobody ever really realized was a problem. It doesn’t have to fit into something the size of a button crammed into a “folder” the size of a button on a screen the size of a playing card. But everywhere I look, I see tiny little ideas, ideas that are almost petty in their inconsequentiality. And I come back to those cliches, and I think the real problem is in how little thought goes into the language these people use. When the language you employ to communicate your ideas is small and boring, your ideas are going to be small and boring. And when all your ideas are small and boring, your future gets dimmer and dimmer and more claustrophobic until it’s finally just a pinpoint of light on a dark screen, in danger of going out at any time.
There is some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as “the art”. I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. The very language about magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. A grimmoir for example, the book of spells is simply a fancy way of saying grammar. Indeed, to cast a spell, is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people's consciousness. And I believe that this is why an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world that you are likely to see to a Shaman.
I believe that all culture must have arisen from cult. Originally, all of the facets of our culture, whether they be in the arts or sciences were the province of the Shaman. The fact that in present times, this magical power has degenerated to the level of cheap entertainment and manipulation, is, I think a tragedy. At the moment the people who are using Shamanism and magic to shape our culture are advertisers. Rather than try to wake people up, their Shamanism is used as an opiate to tranquilize people, to make people more manipulable. Their magic box of television, and by their magic words, their jingles can cause everyone in the country to be thinking the same words and have the same banal thoughts all at exactly the same moment.
In all of magic there is an incredibly large linguistic component. The Bardic tradition of magic would place a bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you. That might make your hands lay funny or you might have a child born with a club foot. If a Bard were to place not a curse upon you, but a satire, then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire, it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates; it would destroy you in the eyes of your family. It would destroy you in your own eyes. And if it was a finely worded and clever satire that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries. Then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and your absurdity. Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment; things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we’re waiting to die. It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.
The complexity of the so-called individual that’s been praised for decades in America somehow has narrowed itself to the ‘me’. When I was a young girl we were called citizens – American citizens. We were second-class citizens, but that was the word. In the 50s and 60s they started calling us consumers. So we did – consume. Now they don’t use those words any more – it’s the American taxpayer and those are different attitudes.
When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence."Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
All big changes of the world come from words.
When daily life requires turning a blind eye to the falsity of countless things we’re told, it weakens the power of language to sort truth from fiction.
In all major socializing forces you will find an underlying movement to gain and maintain power through the use of words. From witch doctor to priest to bureaucrat it is all the same. A governed populace must be conditioned to accept power-words as actual things, to confuse the symbolized system with the tangible universe. In the maintenance of such a power structure, certain symbols are kept out of the reach of common understanding – symbols such as those dealing with economic manipulation of those which define the local interpretation of sanity. Symbol-secrecy of this form leads to the development of fragmented sub-languages, each being a signal that its users are accumulating some form of power."Children of Dune"
All naming decisions have several constraints in common. You want names that are as short as possible, so they are easy to type, format, and say. At the same time, you want to convey as much information as possible in each name, so readers will not have to carry as much knowledge in their heads. You want names that are familiar, to take advantage of knowledge readers already have via metaphor or analogy. However, you want names that are unique, so that others who are also choosing names will not accidentally choose names that interfere with yours. The first rule I follow is no abbreviations. Abbreviations optimize typing (a 10–100 times in 20 years task) over reading (a 1000–10000 times in 20 years task). Abbreviations make the interpretation of a name a two step process—what do the letters stand for and then what do those words mean. The class and method naming patterns here will produce names that you should never have to abbreviate. Naming the root class of a large hierarchy is a momentous occasion. People will be using the words you choose in their conversation for the next 20 years. You want to be sure you do it right. Unfortunately, many people get all formal when they go to name a superclass. Just calling it what it is isn’t enough. They have to tack on a flowery, computer science-y, impressive sounding, but ultimately meaningless word, like Object, Thing, Component, Part, Manager, Entity, or Item. You’re creating a vocabulary, not writing a program. Be a poet for a moment. The simple, the punchy, the easily remembered will be far more effective in the long run than some long name that says it all, but in such a way that no one wants to say it at all."Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns"
Words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.
The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules.""Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.
We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.
The march away from language continues. Facial expressions may be a rich form of communication but the kinds of ideas you can communicate with them are severely restricted. Literacy was hard won and now it seems like we're letting it go.