Photograph: George Orwell at work on his trusty old typewriter. (Public Domain).
The effect of Nineteen Eighty-Four on our cultural and linguistic landscape has not been limited to either the film adaptation starring John Hurt and Richard Burton, with its Nazi-esque rallies and chilling soundtrack, nor the earlier one with Michael Redgrave and Edmond O’Brien.
Apart from pop-culture renditions of some of the novel’s themes, aspects of its language have been leapt upon by libertarians to describe the curtailment of freedom in the real world by politicians and officials – alarmingly, nowhere and never more often than in contemporary Britain.
George owes his own adjective to this book alone and his idea that well being is crushed by restrictive, authoritarian and untruthful government.
Big Brother (is watching you)
A term in common usage for a scarily omniscient ruler long before the worldwide smash-hit reality-TV show was even a twinkle in its producers’ eyes. The irony of societal hounding of Big Brother contestants would not have been lost on George Orwell.
Some hotels have refused to call a guest bedroom number 101 – rather like those tower blocks that don’t have a 13th floor – thanks to the ingenious Orwellian concept of a room that contains whatever its occupant finds most impossible to endure. Like Big Brother, this has spawned a modern TV show: in this case, celebrities are invited to name the people or objects they hate most in the world.
An accusation often levelled at the current government by those who like it least is that they are trying to tell us what we can and cannot think is right and wrong. People who believe that there are correct ways to think find themselves named after Orwell’s enforcement brigade.
See “Thought Police” above. The act or fact of transgressing enforced wisdom.
For Orwell, freedom of expression was not just about freedom of thought but also linguistic freedom. This term, denoting the narrow and diminishing official vocabulary, has been used ever since to denote jargon currently in vogue with those in power.
Hypocrisy, but with a twist. Rather than choosing to disregard a contradiction in your opinion, if you are double thinking, you are deliberately forgetting that the contradiction is there.
This subtlety is mostly overlooked by people using the accusation of “doublethink” when trying to accuse an adversary of being hypocritical – but it is a very popular word with people who like a good debate along with their pints in the pub.