…The deadening influence that official jargon can exert upon thought was a topic that preoccupied George Orwell. …
In Orwell’s novel, 1984 he recounted dramatically how a government in control of all media of communication can and will so degrade language that words are drained of meaning, the process of thinking becomes impossible, and there is no truth save what those in power define. He developed the same thesis further in an essay, Politics and the English Language, shortly before he died. Citing the downward spiral of the alcoholic who drinks because he feels himself a failure and fails more dismally still because he drinks, Orwell observed:
It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. 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, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. ( Orwell)
Officialese, or the jargon of government, however, flows limpid as a mountain stream beside the jargon of pedantry, or Academese. Where the author of officialese wishes most of all to sound important, the author of Academese is usually a specialist in some rather restricted field that he regards as his or her private preserve. Cherishing exclusivity, they affect a language bristling with esoteric terminology and barricaded against comprehension by the amateur. Actually, little talent is required to write jargon; it demands neither grace nor clarity, and these are the most difficult qualities for a writer to achieve.
The headwaters of the great turbid stream of Academese lie somewhere back in the caves on nineteenth-century German scholarship, where no philosopher was worthy of the name unless he evolved his own system, Method, and Lexicon. But a major tributary now flows along the frontiers of modern science, Finance and economics which involves resorting to increasingly abstract ideas and complex mathematical techniques. The filter down effect is that the social sciences have aspired to loftier status as well; all the bells and whistles crosshatched and hemstitched with graphs, charts and probability tables, after which the epidemic of jargon finally ends up winding its way through literary, aesthetic and music criticism. Eventually, one could infer that communication occurs by good luck.
So, an expensive education has to be put to good use, and in our current context of jargon this means avoidance of the explicit and concealment of the absence of thought by means of pretentious, technical, impenetrable verbiage. ( to be continued)