Kyrra McClintock challenges her readers to reconsider their position on mendacious language in the 21st century in relation to George Orwell’s novel, “1984”. She provides an in depth view of the different types of language that are used to manipulate an audience. Throughout history, the English lexicon has changed dramatically and become complex through the advanced expansion of words, expressions and phrases. Many words have positive connotations and are used in a way that excites and illuminates the reader; however, sometimes words are used negatively by people of power to manipulate the readers into a certain way of thinking. In recent times, with the rise of social media, specific terms have arisen to define words that institutions like the government, the military and political parties use on a daily basis to manipulate society.
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George Orwell’s novel “1984”, is based around a totalitarian government presented in a dystopian future where only one leader has freedom of speech or even thought. Big Brother, who controls everyone, uses language to manipulate society. In every edition of the ‘Newspeak Dictionary’ more and more words with negative connotations are removed. Newspeak is used to manipulate and control the people of Oceania. The use of mendacious language in everyday life is parallelling the dystopian world that Orwell created, this is quite prophetic as this type of words and grammatical construction are similar to Orwell’s future. This language manipulation is happening right now. Orwell takes the meaning out of the English lexicon by writing about a society that has changed the purpose of language all together.
Within the novel, Orwell continuously shows how openly deceitful and dishonest language can be. The “Ministry of Love” is truly a place for torture, almost the complete opposite meaning of the ministries title, similarly, the ministry of Peace controls war. “Joy Camps”, which were camps that people were forced into hard labour, are an example of some of the contradictory language the ministries and parties used to manipulate and control their audience. Newspeak is the official language of Oceania in “1984”. It was designed to remove the possibility of negative thinking by creating a language where there are no negative connotations, how can anyone go against the party without the words to describe their rebellion? Instead of the word “bad”, the term that is acceptable would be “ungood”, as it has less negative connotations and the prefix produces the exact opposite of the meaning so there is no uncertainty in its context. Orwell explored the ideas of truths contradicting each other by the concept of “doublethink”.
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s head simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (Orwell, G. 1949). Newspeak also removed any synonyms, antonyms and inadmissible phrases. “In the year 1984 . . . it was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak and more in their quite everyday speech.” (Orwell, G. 1949). Insidious euphemistic language was not just created by George Orwell, it has been used throughout history countless times.
The language Nazis used not only concealed reality from their victims, it also eased the truth about the Nazi involvement in mass murder. They used words like “resettlement, bath houses, final solution and cleansing” instead of using words like “murder, gas chambers and genocide”. In the novel, the political party essentially did the same thing with their “joy camp” euphemism. Euphemistic language can be found essentially anywhere. The language used in war is a good example of how euphemisms can mask the depressing truth. The government has used this language technique many times in the past, notably after 9/11. “Extraordinary Rendition” which sounds like something positive with the use of the word “extraordinary”, is quite the opposite in fact. This term is used when the CIA kidnaps suspects of terror activities and later tortures them. As America continues to hide behind these acts by using more anodyne language, it makes America more self-conscious and creates a country of doubt and recession instead of stability and certainty. “In George Orwell’s classic 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language,’ he noted that his era’s equivalents for ‘collateral damage’ were ‘needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.’” (Astore, W. 2016). “Orwell explored the ideas of truths contradicting each other by the concept of ‘doublethink’.” A term that is commonly used around social media is ‘fake news’. Its purpose is to use misleading information to gain profit or political power. It can be very deceitful as it is created to look like as many credible sources as possible. It has become a large issue on social media in the last couple of years especially with the rise of Donald Trump into presidency.
With the 2016 election there were many ‘Fake News’ statements and articles circulating the media about the candidates. For example, “Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop” was one story that had been “leaked”. Although this was obvious it was fake news, many people believed it to be true. This proves society can be manipulated into believing any rumour on the internet or in the media. There has always been fake news circulating around the world; however, with social media growing at a rapid rate, fake news and other mendacious language like ‘buzz words’ and ‘weasel words’ etc. have been shared liked and commented on, all over social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Fake news inventors
gained so much attention they realised they could make money off the lies, this just advanced the growth of fake news throughout our society. As a society we are powerless against Trump and other political leaders. In relation to fake news they have basically said that the people cannot take any action against this mendacious language even if society did, our actions would not have any consequences. The government has used ‘post truths’ multiple times in the past. Instead of using facts to persuade an audience, by using post truths a leader can appeal to an audience’s emotions instead. Trump used people’s emotions of insecurity to promote his idea on building a wall to keep trespassers out of the country. Similarly, Big Brother manipulated the country by compelling them to react to violently to footage of their enemy during their “Two Minutes Hate”.
A cartoon of Donald Trump surrounded by a small selection of the “Trumpisims” he has stated.
It is not only leaders who use this vague and deceitful language, it has entered a wide range of institutions. Schools use this language to comfort a parent about their misbehaved child. Businesses use ‘weasel words’ to misinform people about their products. People who are ‘poor’ are classified ‘low socioeconomic class’, we accept these titles because just like the party in “1984”, they are of higher ranking than the rest of society, therefore; it is easier to believe them.
Should the links between now and Orwell’s “1984” be concerning? Although we have not quite reached the extent of Orwell’s “1984” totalitarian society, we are not far off. There continues to be more cameras on the streets, thoughts being manipulated and leaders taking whatever action they please. The term “Big Brother is watching” used to be a joke, however; it is very rapidly becoming a reality. Euphemisms are used absolutely everywhere and are continuing to grow at an exponential rate. Society should doubtlessly be concerned about our future becoming “1984”.
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