Resisting the Winds

Orwell and Pretentious Diction

In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.” It is both philosophical and practical. Though penned some 74 years ago, it provides insightful commentary on the state of political and religious discussion today.

Pretentious Diction

Orwell criticizes the politicization and destruction of language and thought using – what he calls – “pretentious diction.” Pretentious diction are words which “are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements.” Examples he uses from his time and culture include words like: “Objective, effective, exploit, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable.” 

Modern Examples:

I too believe our conversations today are rotting with the decay of politicized language and thought. We suffer pretentious diction at every turn. Contemporary examples of this would be words like “science,” and “my truth.”

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

This infraction is also committed in today’s parlance whenever someone uses the phrase “speak my truth.” Rarely are these people deeply studied and committed to philosophical postmodern subjectivism. It is simply a desperate attempt to turn subjective opinions into objective opinions which cannot be argued.

Something similar happens by the use of a phrase idiosyncratic to the Christian community. Many Christians wrongly duel with pretentious diction every time they claim their belief was discovered when God “spoke” to them. This includes any attempt to claim God “speaks” to us outside of Scripture. Whenever preachers describe their sermon as “something God told me to say” or “the word the Lord gave me today” they are engaged in pretentious diction, because now to disagree with them is to disagree with God.

“The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. “

Orwell has rightly helped expose us to the subtle but dangerous use of pretentious diction in religious and political discourse. Quite frankly, Christians have no business using it, for it is a form of deceit.

Discern the ways pretentious diction has crept into your diction, and then scrub your language clean of it.

“I never discuss anything else except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss.”

– G.K. Chesterton

1 reply »

  1. Well they always want to appear educated. My pet peeve is “utilize” when you really meant use. I can utilize a screwdriver as a hammer – a improper tool use. But somehow the word gets used inappropriately or poorly or foolishly. He utilized all his resources to do something when he simply used stuff.

    I’m sure others have their favorites.

    Orwell has now come into his own in these days. His writings now seem so current, shameful. BTW, science told me so.

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