The Orwellian Dream


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Short post, short podcast.

In his 1945 essay, Politics and the English language, George Orwell talked about dying metaphors.

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without a loss of vividness. But between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

George Orwell
Politics and the English Language, 1945.

I remember these words whenever I come across a metaphor with particular power, as in this Mark Twain comment on sentence length.

At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won’t be a sea-serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession.

Mark Twain
Quoted in The Economist Style Guide.

How much of your writing is the sea serpent, how much the torch-lit procession?

As we know, science has more recently discovered what writers (and particularly poets) have known all along. A powerful metaphor lights up the brain in a way that little else does.

A sea serpent versus a torch-lit procession.

What fabulous language.

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