Saturday, March 17, 2018

`Equally Inappropriate Words'

The list of words drained of meaning by overuse, laziness and intentional corruption has reached dictionary proportions. Awesome comes to mind first. Once reserved to describe the deity, it now signifies faux-enthusiastic agreement or endorsement: “I will pay the utility bill.” “Awesome!” The word is unusable and dead. More regrettably lost are community and conversation. Once humble and useful, such words now are verbal gestures without content. Users are interested not in communicating information but in signaling that they are the sort of people who care about what community and conversation used to mean. This phenomenon is not new, of course; merely accelerating. On this date, March 17, in 1944, Orwell not only diagnosed the ailment but proposed treatment:

“With no power to put my decrees into operation, but with as much authority as most of the exile ‘governments’ now sheltering in various parts of the world, I pronounce sentence of death on the following words and expressions: Achilles’ heel, jackboot, hydra-headed, ride roughshod over, stab in the back, petty-bourgeois, stinking corpse, liquidate, iron heel, blood-stained oppressor, cynical betrayal, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, jackal, hyena, blood-bath.”

For Orwell, the principal culprits are the Marxists and fellow travelers, whose descendants are still with us. Of the seventeen words, some have faded into yesterday’s clich├ęs. Some have shifted meaning. Some have lost their Marxist context. One seldom hears “petty-bourgeois” anymore. “Mad dog” and “blood-bath” I might use ironically.       
Drained of their 1940s political sense are “lackey” and “flunkey,” about which Orwell writes:

“. . . they and other equally inappropriate words are dug up for pamphleteering purposes. The result is a style of writing that bears the same relation to writing real English as doing a jigsaw puzzle bears to painting a picture. It is just a question of fitting together a number of ready-made pieces. Just talk about hydra-headed jack-boots riding roughshod over blood-stained hyenas, and you are all right. For confirmation of which, see almost any pamphlet issued by the Communist Party—or by any other political party, for that matter.”

1 comment:

Brian said...

So, absolutely!