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Isn’t that just Orwellian?

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut

This has been a guiding principal of my life since age sixteen when I first picked up Mother Night. As I grown and matured in my studies, however, I’ve taken it a step future realizing not only are we what we pretend to be, we are what we say.

The importance of language is often taken for granted. Being born into a world where, for most language formation is a given, it is easy to forget that our constructs of life,  how we interpret the world, is structure through language.

I came across an article early this week by Jason Slotkin, lamenting the buzz term that “Orwellian” has become especially in light of the NSA.

Personally, I’ve heard the term used repeatedly this week on several 24 news stations with no regard on the validity of the term’s usage.

This isn’t the first time Orwell’s work and ideas has been corrupted. Apple so famously borrowed from his work 1984,which was a brilliant marketing move, though something I’m sure old George would have hated.

This is the danger with writing, once it leaves us, we have no control on how it is used or interpreted. Words are beautiful and dangerous creatures.

As an author and a responsible user of the English language, I believe that we have some ownership in how words are co-opted and used.

Words are powerful especially worlds the elicit emotions. Words can be used and manipulated by people with varying political agendas. Words can become so cliche that any power in them designates.

We are what we say. We are what we write. We are what we read. And we must be careful with it.

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14 comments on “Isn’t that just Orwellian?

  1. Mother Night has been a favorite of mine since I discovered an old paperback of it years ago. And I remember 1984 the year quite well – especially the film of 1984 that came out then!

  2. I always thought I knew what Orwellian meant and what 1984 was all about… Until I actually read the book when I was in high schoo and realized that Orwell was going into much deeper waters than I could ever have imagined up till then.

  3. Reminds me of a story between Tesla and Edison. Tesla discovered Alternating Currents and wanted them to replace Direct Currents. Edison, not liking someone possibly making money where he couldn’t, showed on tv an elephant being executed by a machine using Tesla’s Alternating Currents.

  4. So interesting to see that little video. In 1984, I was 21 years old, not finished with college, and getting married to a fellow artist (who is still my artist husband). One thing I was NOT doing, at all, was watching TV. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that ad before.

    I appreciate your perspective on words, and I agree that they are indeed powerful. According to my faith, Jesus was the word of God incarnate, and the world was created by the spoken word of God.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  5. Nietzsche is another case in point. It is good to remember that us bloggers, whilst not having hundreds of thousands of people tuning in affect opinions and really should think about what and how we come across. Reminders like this are imperative through all levels of society.

  6. love that book, 1984… My only tattoo is “He hated her because she was pretty and young and sexless….”

    words meanings change over time. It is not danger just fact. One day you and I will die and people will have to guess what we were thinking. They will have no ever be able to fully understand the culture/subcultures we were observing and livng in when we wrote. They wont know if we were depressed or not. They will just see our words and have to make their own meaning based on what they have experienced.

    I think that is beautiful

  7. Words can heal or hurt. Words can be weak and no one wants weak anything: coffee, concrete or people. I want powerful words.

  8. I wonder how many of the people using “Orwellian” have read the book? Where some have reduced it to a buzzword, his depiction was meant to show people that being in a “free” society doesn’t guarentee freedom from oppression. Power corrupts. Ironically, the word freedom has roots in “free [from] doom.”

  9. I’m very inspired by your blog Rachael and your desire to get your work out there into the ether! I did love the articles you re-blogged about dating a girl who reads, and dating a girl who writes. The truth of it all made my heart ache just a little, but in a good way – the pang of familiarity about a subject close to my heart. I have to admit to have not read any of Vonnegut’s work. Got any suggestions on where to start? Thanks!

  10. Oh this is most certainly true of politicos Ms. Stanford, but let’s not make the pop-star/rap lyricists feel the pangs of being the last child picked for a gym dodge-ball team. Yes, it would be unfortunate indeed not to pay proper respects to perhaps the most influential modern masters of volatilizing a word’s concept Words are, after all, merely communicative symbols of idealized(that is, the thought itself in its ideal – for all thinking is done from the ideal aspect)concepts. And, in this extremely super progressively progressive zooropian modern world we exist in, is not the easiest form of manipulating the content of a concept as simple as adding that little mood enhancing amplified aesthetic known as music? The modern Movie and TV dramatists have certainly come to master such a simple admixture. And I ask: whats a comedy or sitcom today without that cheerful laugh-track to alert the viewers its time to, well, slap their knees if course. I’ve often wondered what might happen if a hard-of-hearing person, who must watch a movie or show in closed caption, were to compare his or her thoughts about the same drama with a person who was not.

    Now, onto a lighter matter, just take the word ‘Imperialism’ par exemplar. Now, far be it for silly ol’ me to use a wordpress comment board to give its origin, root, et al, – lord knows, I’m dull enough already; as is no doubt readily apparent for all who’ve trooped on this far with such ridiculousness, so I’ll dispense with such laboriously didactic things, but still, does one not find it rather odd that the concept imperialism has nearly completed dear Nature’s magical butterfly-like transformation into, well… the word “Capitalism”? Are we really going to give credit to Stalin and Lenin for propagandizing J.A. Hobson’s very-flawed economic treatise? Especially since poor Mr. Hobson cannot even grasp the simple origins of European ‘colonialization’. No, but put a melancholic or aggressive tune, some fancy boots and shades behind those two words uttered in two verses and ‘Voila!’ Pop-stars and rapsters have done what not even Mr. Dull himself, Karl Marx could achieve while plagiarizing Hegel for over 1600 snoring pages.

    Anyways, you’re quite right Ms. Stanford, the intellectual property of an author; whether he or she be a poet, a play-wright, a novelist, a dialectician, a historian, a philosopher, a blogger, and even a nonsensical foolish fellow whose ludicrous grammatical nightmarish comments sully an excellent bloggers page, is, in a way, their own, but in another way, not their own.

    You have an excellent blog Ms. Stanford, and please don’t take seriously any of my nonsense. I happened here by accident and I’m quite thankful I did. The accidental is a category that continues to defy all those super-smart logicians, speculative thinkers, and scientists. And this is precisely why the accidental, since the dawn of time, continues to kick-ass in my mind at least.

  11. I grew up at a confluence of cultures in Montana. There is a tradition of Native storytellers — family and friends — of which I was privileged to witness. To those gifted with it, storytelling was more than just entertainment. It was held with as much reverent dignity and responsibility as the deepest of sacred encounters.

    For those of us who speak and write, we must use great care, for it was taught to me that the power of words shapes the world…shapes reality, as we might call it. Words have power that moves beyond fingertips or lips, and once it is set free, may have unintended consequences. Thus, it was taught, that the storyteller must respect that power, and know when to speak, and when to remain silent. We observed many periods of silence during the storytelling times.

    Answers can spill too hastily, and we can become bombarded with an unceasing flood that myriad media might throw at us. But silence — knowing when not to use a word — is the white space that has the possibility of writing or saying what needs to be said without saying a thing.

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