December 29, 2003

No more Orwell-citing!

Posted by Curt at 07:45 PM in Language | TrackBack

Much as I would like to flog our ceaseless linguistic debates with yet more over-citation of Orwell, like this man or this one, I just don’t have the heart for it anymore. No one could object to management-speak and bureaucratic-speak more than I, but I simply cannot muster the outrage that some of these pedants can at the fact that words do not have absolutely fixed, established and unchanging meanings. Even Orwell, I think, was guilty of this to a certain extent in his ad hominem attacks on those who in his view misused or abused language. He treated these as moral crimes, deceptions either initiated or perpetuated to the greater ignorance of everyone. But does it not bother these mandarins that they write exactly in the manner of those whom they criticize? Imagine, an essay that attacks the spurious collectivism of the word “we” while using it in just such a spurious manner at least 15 times as well as an unspecificied number of “us“‘s and contractions thereof (my apologies to Zamyatin). It shan’t even concern me to point out how necessary are dynamism and change to the continued existence of language, because one can swiftly perceive a greater void opening underneath one’s feet: no language is “authentic,” no word has an absolute correspondence with anything. It is all symbols and mirrors: the notion that sounds actually corresponded physically to objects in the world is a long-dead superstition. What do these people expect to do? Establish a correspondence-table between word and concept, while constantly having recourse to the very same fluttering sounds that they are trying to nail down? It is all an illusion, in any case. Better to become aware of the conditional and incomplete nature of all communication, and be grateful that we can reach even so far beyond ourselves.