Orwell and Words

As a writer and poet, I spend a lot of time thinking about words: not just how to use them, but what they are and how they are put together.  I once studied linguistics (quite unsuccessfully, I might add) and a part of that subject is Morphology, the study of what a word actually is.  I can’t claim to have mastered Morphology – in fact I’d much rather have spent the time watching this:


but it set me off on a path; the path of thinking about words.  Crosswords are another good way to think about words: how they work, how they are put together, what anagrams can be made from what, and so on.  And it seems to me that words are the stuff of life.  Words are special: words are holy.

I’m not alone in this, I’m sure.  It’s no coincidence that the central plank of state oppression in Orwell’s ‘1984’ is the language.  INGSOC spends its time in reducing the number of words in the dictionary and citizens are punished for using obsolete ones; whilst the government renders meaningless those which are left (‘War is peace; freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’).


Words are never mere words, though Hamlet might seem to say so: words are holy; words are precious.  The Bible starts with one and so does the Biblical version of history: (‘in the beginning was the word’)


The word was not only there in the beginning, it was ‘with God’ and it ‘was God’.  You can’t get much clearer than that.

And yet what does it really mean?  Orthodox Christians would presumably say that ‘the word’ refers to Scripture, though nothing was Scripted for a long while after.  But I think it means something much more esoteric to do with the fundamental nature of truth and the holiness of words.  Mantras are words; prayers are words and poems are words, and at their best they all approach each other.  This is not to say that what a poet writes is somehow ex cathedra, but that poetry, like prayer and scripture, approaches sublimity.

Words are powerful.  In Harry Potter, the most powerful part of a spell is the incantation, or form of words, used to cast it.  Names, as my other half will attest, are deeply significant; they are the word which is you.  Words are important: words can cast light or darkness; they can lift up or cast down.  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can finish me off.

As a poet, I try to master words.  But in order to master anything, you have to first go along with it.  You have to listen, to understand and to know what it is you are dealing with.  So that, when I split words up to make new ones I always do it along fault-lines.  It’s like working with flints: you have to understand how the thing is made; where it came from and what its range of allusion is.  Then you can start to work.

OK that’s enough for today, me lovelies.  See you on the other side…

Kirk out



7 thoughts on “Orwell and Words

  1. You’re only a writer in your own diseased imaginings. Though I suppose if sitting on your butt all day in a (non)-creative stupor while cadging off the hospitality of ‘friends’ defines being a writer to you, then you meet your own definition.

    As to being a poet – have you (really) any idea what that means? And have you actually looked at your own polluted output – scrapings from your bovine subconscious, ‘down with the kids’ doggerel and feeble parodies of better peoples’ works – with the vaguest attempt at objectivity (a silly question, but one I feel it incumbent on me to ask)? No, of course you haven’t – but if you had (vain hope!) you might begin to understand you’re as close to being a poet as you are to being a super-model. All you are is a hole in reality – just like your wife.

  2. Bill, you have excelled yourself! I don’t usually approve your comments as they’re quite rude, but this one was really funny. Keep up the good work!

  3. Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” uses the Bible as an example of good English:

    ‘I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

    Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account’.


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