19 January 2013
Politics and prescriptivism
It’s a melancholy fate for any writer to become an eponym for all that he despised, but that is what happened to George Orwell, whose memory is routinely abused in unthinking uses of the adjective “Orwellian”. On Monday it is “Orwell Day”, the 63rd anniversary of his death. This year also marks the more pleasantly round number of 110 years since his birth (on 25 June), so there is a Radio 4 series about him forthcoming, and Penguin are reissuing his works, including a standalone edition of “Politics and the English Language” for 99p.
“Politics” is Orwell’s most famous shorter work, and probably the most wildly overrated of any of his writings. Much of it is the kind of crackpot screed against linguistic pet hates that anyone today might compose in a green-text email to the newspapers. So why do so many people still genuflect in its direction?