Guest post: Politics and the English Language


By Professor Jay Dolmage.

Politics and the English Language

In 1946, George Orwell wrote that, “most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.”  Well, I am going to assume that we are all “people who bother with” language.  I’ll also assume that we all think we can do something about it.

I sit on the nominating committee for the National Council of Teachers of English Orwell and Doublespeak Awards awards, and I want to ask you today for your nominations, which I will then take to the committee.

The Orwell Award for a Distinguished
 Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language “recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.”

The Doublespeak Award “is an ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.”

In the past year, who do you think has done the most to advance honesty and clarity in public discourse? And who has done the most to impede and obscure?

These awards have been around since 1974. Recent winners of the Orwell include Michael Pollan, Jon Stewart, Seymour Hersh, and Arundhati Roy.

Recent winners of the Doublespeak include Glenn Beck, the Tobacco Industry, and (twice) George W. Bush.

 

If there are individuals you think should be nominated, please let me know by posting a comment.

Let me also add that, in the past, these awards have tended to focus on an American context.  But I am also curious to see who you think might be the best Canadian candidates for awards like these.  In fact, I am going to create a new set of awards: the Words In Place Orwell and Doublespeak awards.  Who are the Canadians who have have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse in the past year?  And who has perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered? (I’ll start this off myself by nominating the Ford brothers!)

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