George Orwell’s notes for “Politics and the English Language”

February to October 1945?

George Orwell (1903-1950)At the end of the exercise book in which Orwell wrote his Domestic Diary III, 7 May to 8 October 1946 and 4 and 5 January 1947, are notes for Politics and the English Language. They follow immediately the entry for 5 January 1947, but it should not be supposed that because of their position these notes were written after 5 January 1947. Not only are they directly related to Politics and the English Language but the entry for 5 January is, exceptionally, on a verso page, facing the list of metaphors. Had that list of metaphors not already been written into the notebook, the entry for 5 January would have been written on the recto page. There is also with the notebook a loose sheet of paper showing a garden layout.

It is not possible to date these notes precisely. However, As I Please, No. 58, 9 February 1945 refers to ‘worn-out and useless metaphors.’ Orwell there mentions ‘explore every avenue,’ ‘leave no stone unturned,’ ‘ring the changes on,’ ‘take up the cudgels for,’ and the alternative spellings in ‘toe/tow the line'; all are listed in these notes, the first four being the first four given in Orwell’s list. As I Please also refers to ‘cross swords with’ and alternative spellings in ‘plain/plane sailing,’ neither of which is listed here (nor in Politics and the English Language). This suggests that these notes were started in about February 1945. The cutting from Tribune was published on 31 August 1945, suggesting a concluding date between then and the completion of the article on 11 December 1945.

The entries are written in blue-black and various shades of blue ink; pencil; blue crayon; and, for the ‘Propaganda tricks,’ blue-black Biro and a paler shade of Biro. This section could not have been written until after February 1946, when Orwell ordered a Biro (though the supplier was out of stock at the time). The section ‘Propaganda tricks’ is not part of Politics and the English Language.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


Ring the changes
Take up the cudgels for
{Explore every avenue}
{Leave no stone unturned}
{No axe to grind}
Grist to the mill (Q. what is grist?)
Toe the line (tow the line)
Fishing in troubled waters (meaning?)
Rift within the lute (Rift?)
Fly in the ointment
Ride roughshod over
Stand shoulder to shoulder with
Achilles heel
Swan song
Play into the hands of.
Order of the day.

Operators (artificial limbs?)

Serve the purpose of    X
render (with adjective) promote    X                        Phenomenon
not un-                                                                          Sphere/Realm
militate against                                                            Element
Show a tendency to                                                     Effective
The fact that
-ise & -isation, de-
With regard to, with respect to, etc.
Play a leading part (role) in    X
Inoperative (render inoperative)
Make contact with                                                       Prove unacceptable
Reach . . . point (that — of)?
Make itself felt
Subjected to                 Take effect    X
Have the effect of    X                                                  Effect
five good grounds for
Exploit — utilise    X
In the interests of
Compels the conclusion that
By dint of                                                                      The fact that
Development                                                                In view of                   Passive
Give rise to                                                                   Form
Noun formation — The substitution of (substituting)

Cliché phrases other than metaphors

Individual (noun)
Sorely tempted
On the order of the day
Forge (unity etc.)
Would serve no good purpose
Veritable (inferno etc.)
All hell was let loose                                                     Promote
Adding insult to injury                                                 Exhibit
Epic (adj.)
Quietus (gave him his etc.)
Swan song              Veritable inferno

Unforgettable         Basic
Inveterate              Primary                                        Stale metaphors
Veritable                                                                       Operators
Categorical                                                                    Clichés
Inevitable                                                                      Meaningless word.
Virtual                                                                            Foreign words

Misuses & narrowed meanings

Infer (for imply — but also bad currency in the past)
Element (eg. unreliable elements)

Sex words (misconduct, improper, suggestive, intimate, immoral, interfere with, association, dubious, of a certain nature) Sensual, sensuous, fraternise, glamour, association.


Strayed scientific words

Meaningless words etc

Human (eg. “human values”)
Dead (in art criticism)
Plastic (?)

Words consciously used in variable meanings.


Mixed metaphors

. . . . . . . . .

Abstract words etc.

Noun formation in place of verb. Eg. “By the substitution of” for “by substituting”. “The fact that” in place of gerund.

Barnacle adjectives

Undiluted (tripe etc.)
Inveterate (hatred)
Veritable (inferno etc.)


Jackboot (& weapons generally)

Loose statements

. . . . . . . . .

[Cutting from Tribune, 31 August 1945]


Speaking as one who wished to see Winston Churchill continue in the direction of affairs for the present, and who, therefore, unhesitatingly voted Conservative in the recent election, I freely concede that there are certain undoubted and manifest benefits to be derived from Labour rule.

For example, the real realisation of the hard facts governing the situation in the post-war world must come to millions as an unpleasant dose of medicine. It is well that the doctors administering it should not only have a mandate from the people, but themselves be sprung from the people.

Even so, a new Government must walk warily. I imagine that there is nothing like coming into power in a democratic state for making a man realise how limited are the powers of the princes of this (modern) world. Nevertheless, if a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanisation and galvanisation of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream”—as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes, or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amishly arch braying of blamelessly bashful mewing maidens!


George Richards.

Above all, we cannot play ducks & drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregiuscollocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate & put at a loss for bewilder.

(Lancelot Hogben, “Interglossa.”)

I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience even more bitter in each year, more alien to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. (53)

Harold Laski (“The Areopagitica of Milton after 300 years”
in “Freedom of Expression” (P.E.N. Club 1945).

. . . . . . . . .

Propaganda tricks.

  • “I do not claim that everything (in the USSR etc.) is perfect, but —” Technique. The intention to eulogise is disclaimed in advance, but in no specific instance is it ever admitted that anything is wrong. Thus the writer in effect does what he has declared he will not do—ie. claims that everything is perfect.
  • The balancing technique. When it is intended to eulogise A & denigrate B, anything detrimental which has to be admitted about A is balanced by a dragged-in reference to some scandal about B, while on the other hand unfavourable references to B are not so balanced. Especially common in pacifist literature, in which unavoidable references to Belsen, Buchenwald etc, are always carefully balanced by a mention of the Isle of Man, etc., whereas hostile references to Britain/USA are left unbalanced.
  • “I should be the last to deny that there are faults on both sides” Technique. Where the aim is to whitewash A. & discredit B., admissions are made about both, but the admission made about A. is a damaging one, while the one made about B. is trivial & may even redound to B.’s credit. Example: the writer will start by saying that the conduct of all of the Big Three leaves much to be desired, & proceed to accuse Britain of imperialist greed, the USA of being dominated by Big Business, & the USSR of “suspicion.”He will then probably add that Russian suspicions are justified. But in any case, after a preliminary declaration of impartiality, one of the three is accused of a pecadillo, the other two of serious misdeeds.
  • “Playing into the hands of.”
    If A is opposed to B, & B. is held in general opprobrium, then all who oppose A. are declared to be on the side of B. This is applied only to the actions of one’s opponents, never to one’s own actions.
  • Verbal colorations.  (Innumerable—write down instances as they occur.)
  • The unwilling witness.
    (Cf. the Daily Worker’s statement that the New Statesman is an “anti-Soviet organ.” In practice the N.S. ‘s reference to the USSR are almost always favourable, hence the N.S. can be quoted as an unwilling & therefore trustworthy witness.)
  • Tu quoque, or two blacks make a white.
  • Swear words. (Fascist, antisemitic, reactionary, imperialist, etc.)
  • Transition from the moral to the practical phase, & back again.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Source: CW17-2816

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Charles Dickens

From Inside the Whale and Other Essays (11 March 1940) by George Orwell. I Dickens...