Orwell’s ideas about diction


This classic essay captures some of the problems with the way political arguments are made. It is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it in 1945. For your Threaded Discussion post, describe an example of what he is discussing from contemporary society. Perhaps some examples will make the assignment clearer. I will use examples from TV, business and politics (and I’ll try to be politically balanced).

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PRETENTIOUS DICTION. When TV network representatives described Janet Jackson exposing one of her breasts on television during the Super Bowl half time show as a “wardrobe malfunction,” they used what Orwell called “pretentious diction” to obscure what actually happened. The same tactic is used when a company lays off hundreds of employees and calls it “right sizing.” Other examples of pretentious diction include saying “utilize” when you mean “use” (it always helps to add an extra syllable if you want to sound impressive). And how about saying “orientate” instead of “orient”?

MEANINGLESS WORDS. When people in the media described suit-and-tie-wearing, clean shaven, middle aged, mainstream, rich, network television host David Letterman as “hip,” the word “hip” officially lost all meaning. This is an example of what Orwell (2005) called the use of “meaningless words.” Another one that is used by liberal academics a lot is “lived experience.” I have always wondered if there was any other kind of experience besides “lived” experience. Isn’t all experience by definition “lived”? One can’t, after all, have “died experience.”

In this part of the essay, Orwell refers to words where there is “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 the word if it were tied down to any one meaning” (Orwell, 2005, p. 109). When I read this, I can’t help but think of every communist dictatorship that called itself a republic, or even better, a people’s republic. I also think of how many years the U. S. Government avoided agreeing on any definition of the word “terrorism.”

DYING METAPHORS. I remember when one now-dead metaphor first entered general use. It was during the Iran-Contra hearings. I’m referring to the term “window of opportunity.” Originally, it was nice. An opportunity is like a window. Now it has been overused so much that some people just use the word “window” to refer to an opportunity. It’s a dead metaphor.

I love “Politics and the English Language” and have read it many times over the years. One part in particular sticks in my mind. “People are imprisoned for years without trial, shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: it is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

No politician can say publicly, “We are going to take the people who speak out against us in public and shoot them in the back of the head.” Oppressive, horrendous policies like that have to be explained to the public using vague, abstract language. If the politicians who supported those policies spoke so clearly that their constituents had vivid mental images of what they meant, they couldn’t get away with it.


Citing the source of ideas is important. It is good to use concepts from the things you read in your writing. In your TUI papers, be sure to also cite your sources in the body of the paper when you use ideas from readings. It makes it easier for the reader to see that you are applying course concepts. If you don’t cite your sources, you could be applying ideas from the readings but your reader wouldn’t know it. I can’t tell if you are applying ideas from the readings if you don’t let me know what ideas you are applying and which readings they come from. You need to explicitly inform your reader of this. Also citing your sources makes it clear to the reader that you aren’t trying to pass off other people’s ideas as your own–that is, you aren’t engaging in plagiarism. So, in your papers I’d like to see in-text citations.

In-text citation is the term used to describe citing a source in the body of a paper. When you are citing the source of an idea in a paper, it should look like this:

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator has been largely discredited
because it is neither valid nor reliable (Jones & Schmidt, 2005).

Note that the citation is in parentheses, the authors’ last names are included, followed by a comma. This is followed by the year of the publication.

Formatting the references at the end of a paper is done according to a standard set of guidelines. Be sure to follow the guidelines in your papers. Note that,
– The list is double spaced.
– The first line of each citation is flush left but the other lines are indented about a quarter of an inch.

BOOKS. The citations for a book look like this:

McCormick, D. (1990). Business Communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:


The author’s name is first, followed by the initial of the first name. Next comes the year of publication, in parentheses. Then the book’s title, followed by the city and state of the publisher. It ends with the name of the publisher.


Hungadunga, J. A. & McCormick, D. W. (1987). Spirituality and management.

Journal of Business, 3(2), 55-74.

Above is an example of a journal article. When there are two authors, their names are separated by an ampersand. Next is the year again. Then comes name of the article, the name of the journal, the volume number [3], the issue in the volume is in parentheses [(2)] and finally the page numbers [55-74.].


Internet citations in a References list have a specific format. In your papers try to use the standard format for citing works from the internet in your list of references. Below is an explanation of how to do this, taken from the TUI General Style Sheet:

“While there are no established protocols for this new medium, there are acceptable formats to follow. Please see the information at this site for a variety of citation styles as they differ depending if the source is an online book, online article, email message, website forum, etc.

“In general, follow the convention:

Author’s name (last name, first and any middle initials). (Date of Internet
publication). Document Title. Title of complete work [if applicable]. Retrieval

“For example, the following citation includes the date of retrieval, the URL and other pertinent information.

Benton Foundation (1998). Losing ground bit by bit: Low-income communities in
the information age [Electronic version]. Retrieved June 27, 2001, from http://


Orwell, G. (2005). Why I write. New York: Penguin Books.

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