The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Orwellian describes a situation, idea, or condition that George Orwell identified as being inimical to the welfare of a free-society. Often, this includes the situations depicted in his fictional novels, particularly his political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The term "Orwellian" usually refers to one or more of the following:

  • Manipulation of language for political ends. Most significantly by introducing to words meanings in opposition to their denotative meanings. The eventual result of which is that words are left only with connotations. e.g., an orwellian abuse of language would be refusing to identify something as sexist merely because sexist has a negative connotation, even if the denotative usage would be correct.
  • Invasions by the state of personal privacy (the ominous big-brother)
  • Total control of daily life by the state
  • Disintegration of the family by the state
  • Embracing inconsistent thoughts (doublethink)
  • Pervasive surveillence
  • A dystopian future
  • Use of ambiguous language

The first is probably the most common and is often used to describe negatively a situation in which a Big Brother-like authority figure and thought police can, supposedly, constantly monitor people's every action for betrayal or improper thoughts. It is also used for oppressive political ideas and the use of euphemistic language in political discourse to camouflage morally outrageous ideas and actions.

The extensive use of the word Orwellian, often simply to attack political ideas that a writer or speaker does not like, is directly against Orwell's own political views and a particularly ironic example of Orwellian behavior.

Orwell tried to promote the use of more precise language in political discourse, and he criticised political language popular at the time, such as "running-dog lackey" and "Fascist octopus" which he said prevented thought. In his essay Politics and the English Language, he derides the use of cliché and dying metaphors, which "even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent" and goes on to say "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

See also

Last updated: 08-15-2005 21:28:58
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12