Are We Living in Orwell’s World or Lewis Carroll’s?

Nonsense vocables to replace “unwords” (simply affix the suffix -phobe), the defiance of logic, the blackballing of unvetted opinions, the shuttering of businesses whose owners do not “do what is required of them,” the social media hate fests: it’s been too easy to make comparisons between the progressive era in which we live and the totalitarian vision described in  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.

“Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction if it ever will…”

A “reality” made of putty to be reshaped according to ideological needs and an ever-shrinking vocabulary to ensure that conceptualizing vital alternatives becomes impossible.

A sort of vapid eagerness flitted across Winston’s face at the mention of Big Brother. Nevertheless Syme immediately detected a certain lack of enthusiasm.

‘You haven’t a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston,’ he said almost sadly. ‘Even when you write it you’re still thinking in Oldspeak. I’ve read some of those pieces that you write in The Times occasionally. They’re good enough, but they’re translations. In your heart you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?’

Winston did know that, of course. He smiled, sympathetically he hoped, not trusting himself to speak. Syme bit off another fragment of the dark-coloured bread, chewed it briefly, and went on:

‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak,’ he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. ‘Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?’                                                               — Part I, chap. 5, 1984

And yet, when I read some of the more stentorian voices of so-called social justice, I am just as likely to feel as if I’ve tumbled into a stanza of “Jabberwocky.”

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Words without meaning that we repeat as if they had meaning. Carroll no doubt intended his new vocabulary to be a source of entertainment, a playful immersion in arbitrarily married syllables that produced a music of its own. It invites one to build on this language and enter a world of trilling wildlife and giggling children.

Our modern-day Carrolls, however, have a more sinister ambition: to crush discourse under an avalanche of portmanteaux dropped from an ivory tower. It pretends to call out “hate” by vilifying the dictionary. It is wrathful, spare, and as nonsensical as drowning a witch. Whereas the original created choruses of glee, our Carrolls render everyone mute.


3 thoughts on “Are We Living in Orwell’s World or Lewis Carroll’s?

  1. During the sixties, the anti-establishment types and leftist liberals just sought to be heard. Now they have shown who they really are. Now they seek to be obeyed. Indeed, Orwell was perceptive. He drew a picture of America, a futuristic model, where political correctness trumps free speech, where discourse is controlled, where freedom dies.


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