Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Language of the Election

In 1946, George Orwell wrote a fabulous essay about the state of written and spoken English called ‘Politics and the English Language’. In his essay, he made a link between bad prose and oppressive policy, and insincerity: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” He goes onto say that the insincerity of the writer perpetuates the decline of the language as people, particularly politicians, attempt to disguise their intentions behind euphemisms and convoluted phrasing. Orwell proposed  six rules to remedy awful written expression:

1.       Never use a ‘dead’ simile, metaphor or figure of speech that is already in use too much.
2.       Never use a long word when a short one will do.
3.       If possible, always cut out a word.
4.       Use the active voice rather than passive.
5.       Never use jargon, a scientific word or a foreign phrase if there is an English equivalent.
6.       Never manipulate or deceive the reader.

The UK has just had an election, and unless you were living under a rock in Mexico, I am sure most people know it. As a lexicon and lover of words, I was constantly monitoring the way in which politicians were using language. My conclusion: Orwell would be turning in his grave.

The election was void of any inspiring rhetoric that will be remembered. David Cameron got ‘pumped up’ (which will be remembered for comedy rather than any inspirational reasons) and Ed Miliband had his stone with its subjective and bland written expression. Crucially, nothing substantial, either in written or spoken form, will be remembered from the 2015 election, mainly because the language used was awful, repetitive and flat. It seems Britain no longer does passionate speeches of rhetorical excellence, remembered in years to come.

Despite being incredibly dull, the news was soaked with election rhetoric that never got off the ground. How many times did we hear the words ‘campaign’, ‘society’, ‘fairer’, ‘change’, ‘future’, ‘alternative’, ‘forward’, ‘better’, ‘aspiration’, ‘plan’, ‘austerity’, ‘hard-working’, ‘families’, ‘taxpayer’, ‘progressive’, ‘transparent’, and ‘opportunity’? Interestingly, Google and online dictionaries recorded a dramatic rise in the number of people researching what ‘austerity’ means.

How many times did we hear the phrase ‘hard-working families’, ‘long-term economic plan’, ‘tough decision’, ‘finish the job’, ‘lessons have been learned’, ‘not in touch with…’, ‘not showing up to the interview’ and, above all, the worst of the worst, ‘fix the roof when the sun was shining’?

Moreover, how many times did a politician introduce what they were going to say, with what I call ‘procrastination prefixing’? For example, starting with ‘now look’, ‘let me be clear’, ‘If you let me finish’, ‘let’s be clear’, and ‘I’ll get to that in a minute, but…’.

In summary, the 2015 election campaign was a debauchery of language. Ending with the words of Orwell, ‘If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.’

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