Orwell on Language

Source: Orwell on Politics and the English Language

”In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it.”

A tangent on language

Language as an abstraction for concepts. Generally, we need it to communicate and refer to objects that are not spatially/temporally local.

Abstraction involves compression and thus detail is lost if it is lossy. The way we make up for that detail is through having a shared consensus over meaning and intent

This meaning and intent is baked into the meaning of the word through how the word is used

‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, Wittgenstein claimed, in perhaps the most famous passage in the Investigations. It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it, and the context in which you say it. Words are how you use them.

Yet usage changes over time. No one person or institution decides how language works: it is one of the few logically decentralized aspects of humanity. Old meanings may no longer make sense. new groups try to co-opt old terminology. We accrue a plurality of definitions

See: new-words, semantics

Terminological anchoring

Natural meaning ‘drift’. I’m hesitant to ‘root’ new terms, terminology evolves in a decentralized way, centralizing meaning often concretizes meaning

Naming as power, but naming also anchors meaning

Terminological Feedback Loops

  1. Practice creates new terminology as a way to communicate complex ideas without needing to rexplain each time
  2. Terminology then shapes how we think about the world: Sapir-Whorf
  3. Some terminology becomes outdated as practice changes
  4. Arguments ensue over updating shared terminology (esp as language is decentralized, this can cause fracturing)
  5. Two camps emerge
    1. People who want to use terminology mainly as a means to more efficiently communicate practice
    2. People who like the theory behind terminology or those who are attached to tradition
  6. Camps argue over who has the ‘right’ definitions but for their own goals
    1. Camp 1 repeats this loop
    2. Camp 2 continues to argue over definitions