Mention George Orwell’s name, and most people think of Animal Farm (1945) or 1984 (1949). Fewer will recall his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.”

That’s a shame, because that essay is an insightful analysis of how words’ meaning can be manipulated to advance political causes.

On the surface, Orwell’s essay was about how the English language has been debased, and how language corruption cripples our ability to comprehend what writers mean. An implication is that as words’ meaning becomes obtuse, ideological causes can be advanced.

One example of how a word’s corrupted meaning has buttressed a political cause in America is “racism.” A word which once had a specific meaning — see below — has become like “fascism” was when Orwell wrote in 1946: a word that has “no meaning except it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”

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