I have been studying this essay for years. I consider it one of the most significant pieces of writing ever written. I once typed the whole essay word for word and printed it out on my computer as a booklet.
Politics and the English Language Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.
Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes.
Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.
A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It 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 point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.
If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer.
Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written. These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer.
They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary: I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Professor Harold Laski Essay in Freedom of Expression Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerateor put at a loss for bewilder.
Professor Lancelot Hogben Interglossia On the one side we have the free personality: Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous.
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