On this day in 1903, British novelist and journalist George Orwell was born. While Orwell “wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism,” he was best known for his novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In celebration, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite Orwellianisms, words that Orwell coined or popularized.
“My, how you’ve changed, Big Brother. What happened to the sourpuss in ‘1984,’ George Orwell’s grim novel about a thought-controlled future? Gone are the piercing eyes and the perennial threat: ‘Big Brother is Watching.’ You’ve had quite the fashion update. I like how you dress in T-shirts and sweats, just like the proles. I like your boyish grin. No longer a tyrant without a name, you’re now Facebook’s founder and supreme leader, Mark Zuckerberg.”
Froma Harrop, “Big Brother is ‘sharing’ on Facebook,” The Seattle Times, February 10, 2012
Orwell coined the term, Big Brother, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, referring to “the nominal leader of Oceania,” the novel’s version of London. Big Brother is now also any “authoritarian leader and invader of privacy.”
“What bothers me about this kind of secularism is that it sounds so much like ‘1984’ with its ‘Big Brother is Watching You’; inspections of people without warning; superior ruling group (The Inner Party), whose numbers are limited to six million; ‘The Ministry of Plenty,’ which actually inflicts starvation; the denial of human passion and the notion it would be ‘crimethink‘ for a couple to even dream about a third child.”
“1984 World,” The News-Dispatch, December 2, 1971
Crimethink, “the crime of having unorthodox or unofficial thoughts,” is another word Orwell coined in his dystopian novel: “All words grouping themselves round the concepts of liberty and equality, for instance, were contained in the single word CRIMETHINK, while all words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word OLDTHINK.”
“Robert Denham, director of English programs for the Modern Language Association in New York, says doublespeak contains a fair amount of propaganda, too. ‘We’re trying to hide what the real truth is about a situation by masking it behind some gobbledygook,’ he says. Many forms of the lingo are innocent but some are downright dangerous, he says.”
“Doublespeak terms not based on reality,” The Palm Beach Post, June 21, 1988
While often attributed to Orwell, he didn’t coin the word doublespeak, “any language deliberately constructed to disguise or distort its actual meaning, often by employing euphemism or ambiguity.” Also known as double talk, doublespeak was coined in the mid-1950s, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, modeled on Orwell’s doublethink.
“So we’re left with the Orwellian concept of Doublethink: Holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says he will not reactivate offshore processing on Nauru because it won’t break the people-smugglers’ business model. . . .Yet in the same breath he says it is too harsh . . .As Orwell wrote: ‘To know and not to know.’”
“Doublethink on asylum seekers won’t fool anyone,” The Australian, June 7, 2011
Doublethink is “thought marked by the acceptance of gross contradictions and falsehoods, especially when used as a technique of self-indoctrination.”
“Duckspeak, of course, is the language celebrated in George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ Characterized by mindless invocation and the repetition of slogans, it was the highest form of speech in Orwell’s nightmare demolition of the English language, Newspeak.”
Christopher Ketcham, “George W. Bush, the doubleplusgood doublespeaker!” Salon, February 10, 2004
Duckspeak, “thoughtless or formulaic speech,” is imitative of a duck’s repetitive quacking.
“As in ‘1984,’ today’s agents of Newspeak play on the fears of concerned citizens over what’s ‘out there.’ The future, multiculturalism and anybody-not-like-us are presented as reasons for the nation’s apparent race toward political and cultural ruin. Newspeak’s high-priests present topics as black and white, right and wrong, liberal and conservative, in a manner leaving little room for any objective discussions of issues.”
Edward Dwyer, “Speaking Newspeak,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 14, 1994
In Ninety Eighty-Four, Newspeak is “the fictional language devised to meet the needs of Ingsoc,” or English Socialism, and is “designed to restrict the words, and hence the thoughts, of the citizens of Oceania.” In contrast is Oldspeak, which refers to standard English. By extension, newspeak is, in general, “deliberately ambiguous and contradictory language used to mislead and manipulate the public.”
Newspeak also gave us the combining form –speak, which can “indicate the language or special vocabulary of a group,” says World Wide Words. Examples include geekspeak, lolspeak, and adspeak. (More –speak words.)
“Critics on the left hear Orwellian resonances in phrase like ‘weapons of mass protection,’ for nonlethal arms, or in names like the Patriot Act or the Homeland Security Department’s Operation Liberty Shield, which authorizes indefinite detention of asylum-seekers from certain nations. Critics on the right hear them in phrases like ‘reproductive health services,’ ‘Office of Equality Assurance’ and ‘English Plus,’ for bilingual education.”
Geoffrey Nunberg, “Simpler Terms; If It’s ‘Orwellian,’ It’s Probably Not,” The New York Times, June 22, 2003
Orwellian means “of, relating to, or evocative of the works of George Orwell, especially the satirical novel 1984, which depicts a futuristic totalitarian state,” and is an eponym, a word derived from the name of a person.
“Anyway, pureblood prole that I am, I was alarmed to find myself teetering on the verge of poshness because I know what prosecco is.”
Suzanne Moore, “Me, a pureblood prole, one of the new posh?” The Daily Mail, June 5, 2010
Orwell popularized this back-formation of the word proletariat, “the class of wage-workers dependent for support on daily or casual employment; the lowest and poorest class in the community,” which was coined around 1853 and came from the French prolétariat. Before proletariat was proletarian, coined in the mid-17th century. Prole is attested from 1887.
“British citizens will be extradited for what critics have called a ‘thought crime’ under a new European arrest warrant, the Government has conceded. Campaigners fear they could even face trial for broadcasting ‘xenophobic or racist’ remarks – such as denying the Holocaust – on an internet chatroom in another country.”
Philip Johnston, “Britons face extradition for ‘thought crime’ on net,” The Telegraph, February 18, 2003
A thoughtcrime is “a crime committed by having unorthodox or unofficial thoughts.” Thought police, “a group that aims to control what other people think,” originated around 1946, before Nineteen Eighty-Four was published, and was originally in reference to “pre-war Japanese Special Higher Police.”
“Nikita Khrushchev has become an unperson. For a week now there has been no public indication in the nation he long dominated that such a man ever existed. His picture has disappeared from public places. His books are no longer heaped in display in stores.”
“Khrushchev Is ‘Unperson’ In Own Nation,” Lawrence Journal-World, October 23, 1964
Orwell coined this term which means “a human who has been stripped of rights, identity or humanity.”
For even more things Orwellian, check out his essay on new words in English, and these lists, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Newspeak.