Orwell taught us to fear technocratic jargon that doesn’t let us say what we mean. But that is language at its best

Elijah Millgram in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_1557 Dec. 12 16.36Everyone remembers Newspeak, the straitjacketed version of English from George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949). In that dystopia, Newspeak was a language designed by ideological technicians to make politically incorrect thoughts literally inexpressible. Fewer people know that Orwell also worried about the poverty of our ordinary, unregimented vocabulary. Too often, he believed, we lack the words to say exactly what we mean, and so we say something else, something in the general neighbourhood, usually a lot less nuanced than what we had in mind; for example, he observed that ‘all likes and dislikes, all aesthetic feeling, all notions of right and wrong… spring from feelings which are generally admitted to be subtler than words’. His solution was ‘to invent new words as deliberately as we would invent new parts for a motor-car engine’. This, he suggested in an essay titled ‘New Words’ (1940), might be the occupation of ‘several thousands of… people.’

Now, I don’t have anything against the invention of new words when it’s appropriate. But Orwell was badly mistaken, and not just for ignoring the fact that English already picks up new words on a daily basis. His reasons for wanting that extra expressive power are, uncharacteristically, poorly thought-out. Language just doesn’t work in the way that either 1984’s Ministry of Truth or the more benign bureau of verbal inventors in ‘New Words’ presume. And understanding why that is will put us in a position to explain a lot of what goes under the heading of metaphysics.

More here.