Thursday, 21 March 2013


It [the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier to have foolish thoughts.
On the cash desk in Waterstone's bookshop yesterday I noticed a pile of very slim books (note the apostrophe – mine).

Penguin has republished George Orwell's essay on politics and language: at 99p a snip at today's prices. Of course I knew of it and of its message, it feels like I always have but, as with many such things, I had never actually read it.

This essay was was first published in 1945. As a bonus, the present edition includes Orwell's review of Hitler's Mein Kampf, first published in March 1940.

Orwell's analysis of the perversion of language, and then how perverted language itself goes on to pervert yet more, well stands the test of time. So does his analytic framework. I can speak only for English in the United Kingdom which is, I suspect, well on the way to passing Orwell's worst imaginings. And oh woe, the fields of human welfare, including disability, rehabilitation and education are up there with the leaders.

Orwell's essay take but little time to read, and is rather disappointing. His argument is clunky, and others have made the same point before and since, with greater clarity and more careful qualification. But he was writing polemical journalism, in 1945. Its worth, however, is to be judged less by its originality and rigour but by the fact that it touched a button, and continues to do so. It is a button that cannot be touched too often.

Conductive Education?

Conductive Education in the English language has been tagging along trying to keep up with the worst Orwellian trends in the language, with the effect that that its messages are not so much communicated as perverted – and its very future therefore compromised too.

It would make for a salutory exercise to analyse some contemporary CE-speak using Orwell's acerbic approach (I daren't write 'methodology'!). Not me, though. I haven't time, and anyway, like many an academic exercise, this would serve merely to confirm something that everyone already knows. Sounds like a good research topic!

And conductivists do please note: Orwell's message was that language is corrupt, and corrupts – but you can do something about it. To move beyond things as they are, rather than let them dictate – now that is a response to this problem more in keeping with the conductive world view.


Orwell, G. (2013) Politics and the English Language, Penguin Books

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