Orwell: Two minus, one plus
I'm now most of the way through the four volume Essays, Journalism & Letters, which I've been rereading and enjoying. Several points struck me, and since Orwell is unfortunately not around to argue with I thought I would put them on my blog instead:
"One argument for Basic English is that by existing side by side with Standard English it can act as a sort of corrective to the oratory of statesmen and publicists. High-sounding phrases, when translated into Basic, are often deflated in a surprising way. For example, I presented to a Basic expert the sentence, "He little knew the fate that lay in store for him"—to be told that in Basic this would become "He was far from certain what was going to happen". It sounds decidedly less impressive, but it means the same."(Volume III, 63, "As I Please," Tribune, 18 August 1944)
The denotation of the two sentences may be about the same, but the connotation is quite different. The first clearly implies that something important and surprising is going to happen to the character, the second carries no such implication. An extraordinary mistake for Orwell, who was not only a writer but a novelist, to make.
The book was suppressed ... . But in the process an important step forward was made. It was ruled that you may now print the first and last letters of the word with two asterisks in between, clearly indicating that it had four letters. This makes it reasonably sure that within a few years the word will be printable in full.
So does progress continue—and it is genuine progress, in my opinion, for if only our half-dozen "bad" words could be got off the lavatory wall and on to the printed page, they would soon lose their magical quality, and the habit of swearing, degrading to our thoughts and weakening to our language, might become less common.(Volume IV, 65, Tribune, "As I Please," 6 December 1946)
A plausible conjecture, but unfortunately a mistaken one. "F**k" can now be printed in full, and is. And its present participle is routinely used in conversation as the modern equivalent of "um," or perhaps a comma. I had a recent online conversation (in World of Warcraft) with someone who was surprised that I had any objection to the practice.
On the other hand, in "As I Please" for 27 December 1946, Orwell cites Shaw as arguing that people today are more credulous than in the Middle Ages, with the example of the belief that the earth is round. Orwell goes on to discuss in some detail his own reasons for believing that the earth is round, and concludes that while he has good reason to think it is not flat, his belief that it is not, say, egg shaped comes down to belief in the authority of experts which he is not in a position to confirm at first hand.
It is very much the same point that I have made in the past here about evolution—that most who accept it, like most who deny it, are doing so out of their belief in the authorities they respect, not because they know what the arguments and evidence are.
Readers who follow the links will find that they go to pieces which cover a variety of subjects in addition to the ones I am discussing—and are all worth reading. It occurs to me that perhaps, when I set up this blog, I should have borrowed the title Orwell used for his columns.