I Strive For Accuracy In Language

Now, I don’t mean to be a linguistic tyrant, but…

How many times have you ever been very hungry, and claimed to be “starving?” How often are you cold and say “I’m freezing?” These and other hyperbolic statements like them are obviously inaccurate, but the damage done to the language is far more subtle.

If I say that I am freezing when I am really just cold, what can I say if I actually am freezing to death? The English language has quite a gamut of adjectives to describe any situation. If you skip them all and use the most extreme for everyday situations, then what becomes of the others?

I have always thought the most terrifying idea put forth in Orwell’s1984 was that of the destruction of the language. The fictional Party realized a very real truth: To control language is to control thought. If people cannot express themselves, externally or internally, then their imagination is limited. The Party outlawed nearly all synonyms, leaving the people with just a handful of words for everyday usage. “Super,” “great,” “nice,” “wonderful,” “spiffy,” “nifty,” and “excellent” all gave way to just one word: “good.” To express something more good, “plusgood,” or even “doubleplusgood.” All the adjectives meaning “bad” were done away with, replaced with “ungood.”

This is an extreme extrapolation of the examples in my first paragraph, but I believe there is a connection. What the fictional Party of 1984 did out of evil desire, we are doing out of laziness. Each successive generation is losing the ability to express itself. The prose and poetry of the past is being ignored because it is too hard to understand.

So let us be accurate with our words. Other people will understand us, and we can treat the English language as a fine rapier of art rather than a crude club with which to bash in our ideas.

If I am an amateur artist of language, Fred Reed is Michaelangelo.Read his dissertation on the decline of English.