What sort of English does George Orwell liken to prefabricated Hen-House?

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Certain phrases enjoy great currency for a time. We cannot escape them: they are in newspapers, on radios and in everyday conversation. ‘Stop I want to get off.’, does that mean anything to you now?

We heard it repeatedly in the eighties. It was both a successor and an opposite to, ‘Roll on [any stimulating time or event]’. Life was so dull that we wanted to rush it forward until something more interesting were happening.

The phrase was well enough established to appear in Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn (1977)—‘Roll on retirement.’ But a few years later the phrase gave way to: ‘Stop I want to get off.’ Life was so ‘hectic’ that people wanted to put it on hold.

In the eighties too, there was much of the, ‘Been there, done that.’ This phrase later extended to, ‘Been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt.’ Ultimately, it contracted. It sufficed to say, ‘Bought the tee-shirt.’ In 1999 a woman—a generation older than I was—had ‘bought the tee-shirt’ in relation to Holy Communions: she had attended her fill of Holy Communion celebrations. The phrase was then well past its vogue.

In the early nineties things were apt to be ‘in your face’. So much was obtrusive. ‘Get a life!’, was the remedy for anyone whose life was deficient. Maybe their life was so deficient that they had the leisure and energy to interfere with yours. Or perhaps, they simply had such an unspeakably dull life that they needed to enrich it somehow.

A few years ago—and sometimes today—people were ‘getting it’ or ‘not getting it’. Not everyone was capable of ‘getting it’. The phrase has the flavour of ‘getting a joke’ with additional nuances. People might ‘not be getting’: art, styles of dressing or a performance (comedy, drama, music). Those who did not get something were lacking that idiosyncratic je ne sais quoi which the perpetrator (of what was not being got) possessed.

People were once ‘really into’ something, then they were ‘passionate about’ something, and today they are ‘obsessed with’ something. Matters which were once ‘delicate’ are now ‘sensitive’.

People do not talk of wanting life ‘rolled on’ or ‘stopped’ in 2012. Are people now satisfied with the tempo of their lives? They neither want to hurry it on nor to slow it down. Are things less obtrusive than they were in the nineties? People needed to ‘get their acts together’ in the early nineties. Is everything ‘sorted’ now?

When certain phrases are no longer current, do people feel their loss?

Or are such phrases* no more than the equivalent of what George Orwell (“Politics and the English Language” ) describes as: ‘prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.’

* I only mention a few of these phrases: there are many more.


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