Written in the Sand Podcast Episode 17
They May Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our Conformity
Are You One of Us?
We call them catchphrases, clichés, inside jokes, slogans, battle cries, and George Orwell thought of them as sloppy language. In his essay, “Politics and the English language” he talked about how these phrases become removed from any recognizable meaning and become shortcuts for thinking. Even worse, these phrases can be retrofitted for political goals, selling unfamiliar ideas with familiar words. Some phrases become so obscure that we no longer use some of the words let alone know their definitions, but we can often recognize their intent. They become phrases that we understand without having to ponder what the actual words mean.
George Orwell was not a fan.
He felt that this sloppy language lead to sloppy thinking, and I agree with him up to a point. Some of those words may have meanings you are only vaguely aware of, you just kind of understand them by how they are used.
One of the phrases that George Orwell listed was grist for the mill. I know what it means, material that is useful or turns a profit, but I’ve never heard the word grist outside of that phrase in my entire life. It means corn, by the way. Obviously, if you operate a mill, not having anything to grind means that you have a useless building, so any opportunity to obtain such resources must be taken advantage of. Not that many people operate mills anymore, so most of the saying is un-relatable to a modern audience.
I singled out that phrase, but I could have used any of the ones tin the beginning of the episode, or any one of thousands of others to illustrate George Orwell’s sentiment. But all language, in a way, becomes cliché. You can scan down a list of random words and a certain number of them you will recognize without even really knowing how to define them. Often, words become habitual. You just know what they mean.
Today, we are going to discuss a few things about these phrases but in a more generalized sense. The actual phrases don’t matter, what matters is that the environment that we are raised in, which becomes our culture, becomes something that we understand implicitly, without really thinking about it. It’s only when you try to explain it to others that you realize how much of it makes little sense.
This will be the last posting of 2017. We will return in January after the holidays with some changes in format.
“Relaxing Piano Music”
“Sugar Plum Dark Mix”