Newspeak totes sux0r
What kind of self-righteous paranoid pseudo-revolutionary would I be if I didn’t, at some point, relate some current trivial trend to an outrageous Marxist conspiracy theory? I can’t go on any longer without pointing out that something many people innocently take part in is destroying, not just our civil liberties, but the actual ability to generate the most sacred of human gifts; imagination. I am not suggesting the tired old arguments about facebook and television extinguishing the imagination, something much more sinister is afoot something that ‘we the people’ broadcast in what is quickly becoming everyday speech.
As every good liberal (and naughty Tory, although they wouldn’t admit it) knows; George Orwell’s dystopian world as described in his book 1984 has become a spookily accurate picture of society today. For those who are yet to read it; 1984 takes place in a world where the government aim to have total control over, not just the lives, but the thoughts of all its minions. The book is set in a time when they are well underway with total surveillance of all party members (upper/middle classes), conditioning hate and fear into each and everyone of them. Their goal is to purge the human race of the ability to even think rebellious thoughts, once this is achieved; total power and control over the minds of the people will be realised. Even the idea of freedom will be impossible to think, a world of drones blindly following the word of Big Brother. Although in our current cultural model things have not yet got quite as bad as having surveillance cameras in our bedrooms, it does seem that we are headed in a direction in which all of our movements can be traced to a large extent. Those in power are looking at novel ways in which to dumb down and condition us into following the orders from above. What I wish to explore here is the concept of Newspeak and how a version of it is starting to infiltrate our language.
Orwell goes into some detail when explaining the intricacies of Newspeak, the basic idea behind it is to cut out as many words from the English language as possible thus reducing the ability to express oneself in any way that is not strictly functional. All nuance and subtlety is removed from language, all words are reduced to as few syllables as possible and are attributed a rigid definition. There is no room for interpretation or levels of meaning in Newspeak, all other associations of words apart from those which are enforced upon it are removed. What is left is a skeletal language in which one can only communicate things which are necessary for existence, poetry would become obsolete and meaningless, beauty would disintegrate, philosophical and political debate would become impossible. Some examples may help to explain how it works: currently in the English language we have many different words to express something positive; excellent, fantastic, fabulous, amazing, lovely, tremendous etc. In Newspeak all such words can be reduced to ‘good’, if something is really good then it gets the suffix plus-, or doubleplus- meaning very or very very. Similarly anything that was not good can be portrayed with the prefix un-, so instead of saying terrible, or tragic it would be ungood. All the other dozens of words that have a positive or negative descriptive meaning would be completely cut out of the language. Similarly words like ‘free’ would have to exist in some respect for example, ‘the dog is free of fleas’. However, to say that ‘a man is free to do what he wants’ would not make any sense because the word free would have been purged of all meaning except for the functional. The way in which Newspeak works goes into far greater depth but this should suffice for the argument at hand. The two main processes of creating Newspeak is purging words of all their various associations or cutting them out of language completely and of reducing all words to as few syllables as possible whilst retaining their purged meaning. In the book examples of this are words like ‘thinkpol’ instead of Thought Police.
If you hadn’t of guessed it already folks, I am out to suggest the trend of abbreviations that has virally begun to consume the English language is part of a Newspeak process that people seem to be transmitting without any orders from government forces. ‘Totes amaze’ seems to be the equivalent to ‘doubleplusgood’ in our bastardisation of nuance. It certainly fits the criteria of this quote from The principles of Newspeak “[words are]…invariably cut down into the familiar shape; that is, a single easily pronounced word with the smallest number of syllables that would preserve the original derivation.”. From what I can gather the abreevs trend originated in Southern California, which was also the birthplace of the 1980’s cliched radical-dude slang. Here we have two distinct stages of purging and reducing words, both originating from the same place. When I was growing up it was quite common for the Bill and Ted stereotype of Californian people to be shown at large across England. I spent most of my early life thinking that radical, awesome and bodacious just did mean ‘good’, it wasn’t until I got a bit older that I discovered these words had different meanings and if woven strategically into a sentence could be used with eloquent efficacy. However, even to this day I think that, for example, the word awesome still in some respects has lost some of its original clout and force. This stage of slang could be easily paired with the first phase of newspeak, purging words of their meaning. Although overuse and hence loss of potency was the tactic employed rather than attempting cut the words out of the dictionary which would prove very difficult. Here is a little self test we can do to see how well this purging of words worked, are you under 30 years old and know (without google) the actual meaning of bodacious? Grats if you do, I expect a comment to tell me how incongruous I am being.
It may be 30 years after the duuuude-cliche started working its way through Western culture, but along the path we have had many other, albeit somewhat smaller, instances of word purging. In the UK over this time period I can remember; wicked, blatantly, standard and my favourite considering the argument at hand; liberty/liberties. Today it seems we are beginning the second phase of language dissemination, the process of reducing words down to as few syllables as possible whilst retaining their original meaning. I cba to list them all but I will make a distinction between txt/internet slang and abreevs used in spoken sentences, although they are intertwined, I would suggest that the prior has its roots in digitised functionality and the latter is purely aesthetic. I am actually a proponent of functional abbreviations such as gonna, wanna, gwarn, etc. But when describing the comedic value of something to say it is ‘totes hilar’ imho detracts from beauty and force of an utterance reducing it to a rigid meaning with as few syllables as possible. Using such terms is robbing language of meaning and the ability to create.
It is rumoured that George Orwell used to hang out in certain secret societies and that this is partly the reason how he managed to create a realistic portrayal of the future that seems to align itself with our present situation more and more each year. Apparently he had access to this secret society’s plans which would ensure eventual control over the hearts and minds of the world. These same initiates also knew the power of the spoken word and are said to believe that language is not merely a way of communicating the reality around us but a means of actually creating it. This implies that the reality that we experience, the ‘world’ we perceive, is largely dependent on the type of language that we are are exposed to and use. This certainly would account for the differences in culture that seem to correlate with differences in language. Although this view may seem a little controversial it is shared by many of the more esoterically leaning anthropologists, computer programmers and philosophers. Hence, by reducing language to its lowest common denominator slowly we erode the ability to create a beautiful and meaningful world. If we cannot understand the word beauty how could we experience it? If we lived in a world of pure function then colour would start to seep out of everything, we would become more robotised and dreary, it would be impossible to express individuality, to be creative, to appreciate a sunset or birds singing in the trees. It is our language that has created the world in such a way.
From this perspective, and from mine, language can be thought of as a magic wand. Although many philosophers of language suggest that we are trapped in certain reality structures by the language that we use, we have an infinite number of sentences at our disposal from which new realities can emerge with enough imagination and initiative. We also have more and more words being created all the time whether it be in the council estates of London or the universities of Massachusetts. The abundance of language we have at our disposal can help create a more beautiful and meaningful world to live in. By using abreevs the wondrous world of experience is being narrowed and crystallised, possible realities cannot be born by using such dialect. Hopefully this trend will remain as a turn-of-the-century fad rather than a growing institution. By using language to its full potential we can help develop the world by creating our own spectacular realities that no secret society or governmental force can ever control! …. or we could just say this is all totes ridic and carry on with the hilar use of englang . watevs
Written by Nelly Nosense