Double-Plus Ungood

March 20, 1994

The destruction of thought through restriction of speech is the theme of George Orwell's distopian vision of 1984. The expression of emotion is limited to hatred. History is constantly rewritten, and earlier records utterly eradicated. Words are torn up by the root and replaced by ever simpler words; thoughts are limited because they cannot be expressed. Every evil is expressed by its opposite, and then simplified into gibberish. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Silence is golden.

Double-Plus Ungood George Orwell (pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, 1903 - 1950) wrote 1984 in 1948. It was published in 1949. The book itself is an expansion on his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) which appears in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, published in 1968.

T. H. White, in The Once and Future King, discusses the same concept in terms of the boy Arthur's frustration while in the kingdom of the ants:

'Wart watched the arrangements with a surprise which turned into vexation and then into dislike. He felt like asking why it did not think things out in advance-the annoyed feeling which people have on seeing a job being badly done. Later he began to wish that he could put several other questions, such as "Do you like being a sexton?" or "Are you a slave?" or even "Are you happy?"

The extraordinary thing was that he could not ask these questions. In order to ask them, he would have had to put them into ant language through his antennae-and he now discovered, with a helpless feeling, that there were no words for the things he wanted to say. There were no words for happiness, for freedom, for liking, nor were there any words for their opposites. He felt like a dumb man trying to shout "Fire!" The nearest he could get to Right or Wrong, even, was to say Done or Not Done.'

The entire homily runs, "Speech is silver, silence is golden."


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