In his treatise Politics and the English Language1, Orwell argued that even in 1946 the English language was ‘in a bad way’. He further asserts that the ongoing decline of language has undeniable political and economic causes. Orwell cites several issues as examples, including a lack of precision, ever-changing and forgotten terminology causing the meaning of words and phrases to become vague or lost entirely, and the overuse of jargonistic, meaningless or superfluous words. He describes these issues which are frequently seen in the prose of both common man and academic, as swindles and perversions that make language slovenly, vague and deceitful.
Importantly, Orwell makes a special distinction for political writing which due to its constant adherence to ‘party line’ and prevailing orthodoxy, he found to be lifeless, repetitive, unengaging and almost always delivered in an unfailingly robotic manner. He asserts that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind (Orwell, 1946). These issues, coupled with his observations of Nazi and Stalin-era political propaganda, led Orwell to explore the development and implications of political language in Nineteen-Eighty Four. In his book, much of the government’s effort in developing their controlled language known as Newspeak is intended to control the speech and thoughts of individual people and through this control, to limit wrong thinking; which Orwell describes as thoughtcrime. Orwell’s Newspeak simplifies and restricts the vocabulary to deliberately limit an individual person’s ability to think critically and articulate dissenting concepts. Further, Newspeak intentionally makes self-expression difficult, constraining as distasteful all discussion of free will or independence. It does this by limiting the number of available words2, and in some cases by giving words differing meanings depending on who it is that is speaking. Orwell’s government promulgates Newspeak ostensibly to produce clarity, while intentionally constraining all colour of thought and expression.
While language naturally changes over time3, in recent years we have seen increasing effort focused by individuals and groups on identifying, labelling and then manipulating the meaning of words to suit particular politically motivated narratives. Of these, none are more overt than proponents of the equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI/DEI) movement which intentionally seeks to limit what they believe to be our inherent heterodox thinking4. Proponents have invested heavily to construct and promote the nebulous concept hate speech such that, should the individual wish it, hate speech can now encompass some or all what had previously been described as: (i) offensive, violent, and discriminatory speech or gestures that in many jurisdictions already enjoyed legislative protection; (ii) expressions of animosity, disparaging comments, ridicule or sarcasm; and (iii) offensive language and terms that have often passed into the common vernacular as swears, and which another person may claim to find hurtful (Jay, 2023). The latter two groups are often collectively mocked as hurty words. During the last two years this Newspeak term hate speech has become enshrined in legislation and, sans definition, features in the online safety legislation of both Australia and the UK. The absence of a concrete definition in these Acts may suggest legislators intend hate speech as a movable feast – a malleable concept that can be shaped at will to suit ever changing social moirés and, where activists, courts or the police might wish it, perhaps even the circumstances of any particular situation.