I recently read a post that tragically misidentified something as “Orwellian”, and then proceeded to use it in support of an idea that Orwell himself would have likely criticized.
It seems to be a common malady to hijack well-known literary names for our own purposes, to use them bolster up our arguments with an appeal to authority (a known logical fallacy that is commonly overlooked and accepted). This differs from using an author’s thoughts and ideas as part of an argument, it is instead a name-drop with no connection to their writing, and often contradicts the author’s own words or ideas. Name-dropping is usually accepted or overlooked because we have a generalized idea of a well-known author’s works but we are unfamiliar with their actual words. This is unfortunately true for George Orwell, his name is well-known, but he is widely under-read. His name is often misused within political arguments with few taking the time to read his actual work; which is especially ironic since Orwell dedicated his writing to warning against falling prey to political persuasion. For Orwell, individual thought and a dose of cynicism toward all political parties was necessary to accurately wade through the onslaught of propaganda that was put forth by all political parties. Orwell’s thoughts ranged across a variety of topics, and to him everything had an element of politics in our post-WWII age, and his writings seem, to me, as applicable today as when he wrote them. He certainly earned having his name turned into a adjective, and as much as he’s contributed to political criticism he deserves to be alluded to accurately.
In hopes of diffusing further misuse of his name-turned-adjective, here are a few gems to read for yourself (and hopefully motivate you to read his works in full):
The central problem–how to prevent power from being abused–remains unsolved.– On Charles Dickens
(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen look devilish.–Shooting an Elephant
[English] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.[…] and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration.–Politics and the English Language
In our time it is broadly truth that political writing is bad writing […] Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.–Politics and the English Language
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.–Politics and the English Language
In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasion, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.–Politics and the English Language
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.–Politics and the English Language
Political language–and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists–is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.–Politics and the English Language
Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.–Looking Back on the Spanish War
The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads–they all happened, and they did not happen any less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.–Looking Back on the Spanish War
Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships–an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.–Inside the Whale
–A Collection of Essays, By George Orwell