American Politics and the English Language
By Zainab Furqan

August 18, 2010

George Orwell produced some brilliant pieces of writing during his lifetime-perhaps none as scathing and enlightening as “Politics and the English Language”. In this piece, he highlights the abuses of the English language committed by the public and politicians alike. Here is the link to his essay: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit
I’d like you to imagine Orwell listening to George W. Bush’s inaugural speech (available here: http://www.atthewell.com/speech/).
I did and here is what I imagine his response would be.

American Politics and the English Language
In my last essay, I listed five samples of bad writing. I’d like to add a sixth sample- any excerpt from George Bush’s inaugural speech will do. As I heard this speech, I was reminded of how severely English has been abused and how important it is to guard our thoughts from manipulation.
Although it is unlikely that the president wrote this speech, let us consider him to be the writer for this critique. First of all, there can be no better demonstration of my criticism of meaningless words. I imagine Bush to be exactly like one of those politicians that I wrote about- “a tired hack repeating the familiar phrases”. He completely strips the word freedom of any precise definition. Using it twenty-five times in a single speech, Bush gives it a new meaning with every single use. All ideas, forms of government and causes that are praiseworthy, rather, all that are American are referred to as freedom. Another example is the use of tyranny. In his speech, tyranny seems to be the condition that every human being except an American currently lives under. When a politician so blatantly twists the meaning of words to suit his needs, purposely avoiding clear definitions, he is someone who must never be trusted. It is quite easy for Bush to be vague since words are so carelessly used these days, their broad and inaccurate meanings accepted by the general public. Bush’s objective is obvious; If he can portray freedom as a catch-all term synonymous with America, and tyranny as all forms of government that are not like America’s, he can justify any violation against them as a defense of freedom. There is absolutely no real concreteness in the entire speech and this allows it to be like so many other political writings; a defense of the indefensible. Other words have suffered at Bush’s hands. Oppression, hope, idealism…the list goes on, unfortunately. The only instance when he brings up a definition is when he broadens liberty’s to include the changes that he has made as president.
I have often talked about inflated styles and the use of euphemisms. Bush declares, “The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies defeat”. Instead of clearly explaining what the effort is, he tries to assure the audience that it is noble. Perhaps this would be more accurate: “America and its allies have killed thousands of innocent people to get to their enemies, which are quite probably nonexistent.” It is his inflation and vagueness of words that cause the listener to forget to question the reality behind them.
Bush purposely avoids new imagery and instead, he uses phrases that people are used to; phrases that do not force them to think too much. Consequential times, darkest corners of the world and simmer in resentment and tyranny are present to stir the audience’s emotions, striking a sense of fear and urgency in them, and extinguishing real thought. “You’ve seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs”, Bush claims. I am quite aware that a speech must motivate and inspire people but this is ridiculous. Bush has thrown together phrases that do not instigate a single critical thought. And though this is exactly his purpose, it encourages the audience to be lazy- the unoriginal rhetoric of this speech is easier to process and accept than the truth.
These are just some of the violations of the English language in Bush’s speech. I wrote once that the slovenliness of the language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. Bush knows that very well and I’m sure many people in the audience did have foolish thoughts because of the nonsense that he uttered. I have tried to cure and control the viruses unleashed upon the English language for a long time. This speech has shown me how much work still remains to be done.



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