J.K. Rowling Still Free from the Speech Police

PG note: This is closer to the political line than PG typically ventures. This will not become a regular feature on The Passive Voice.

He makes this exception because, as described in The Wall Street Journal, Scottish law has the potential to seriously harm authors who are subject to it.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democracy. If a government can outlaw and punish speech it dislikes for any reason, a fundamental tool that allows a democracy to readjust its course and correct the errors that human beings inevitably commit.

It is a short step from prohibiting speech a government believes to be improper to prohibiting speech that criticizes other actions the small group of people who are in power decides will be best for themselves.

From The Wall Street Journal:

An appalling political effort to force the people of Scotland to express only government-approved thoughts on “gender” has so far been unable to conquer the country’s most successful expresser of thoughts. Megan Bonar and Katy Scott report for the BBC:

Social media comments made by JK Rowling challenging Scotland’s new hate crime law are not being treated as criminal, Police Scotland has said.

The Harry Potter author described several transgender women as men, including convicted prisoners, trans activists and other public figures.

The new law creates a new crime of “stirring up hatred” relating to protected characteristics.

The force said complaints had been received but no action would be taken.

Ms. Rowling responds on X:

I hope every woman in Scotland who wishes to speak up for the reality and importance of biological sex will be reassured by this announcement, and I trust that all women – irrespective of profile or financial means – will be treated equally under the law.

Libby Brooks adds in the U.K.’s Guardian:

As the Scottish government’s contentious hate crime law came into force on Monday, the author… posted a thread on X… listing sex offenders who had described themselves as transgender alongside well-known trans women activists, describing them as “men, every last one of them”.

She stated that “freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal”.

Agence France Presse notes more of Ms. Rowling’s commentary:

The law, she said in a lengthy online criticism, is “wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces”.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment,” she wrote.

Thank goodness that Ms. Rowling will remain free—at least for now—but will such liberty be allowed for everyone? Ross Douthat now writes at the New York Times

In 2002, the English journalist Ed West penned an essay entitled “Britain Isn’t a Free Country.” His evidence was straightforward: Through the aggressive enforcement of laws against hate speech, Britain was harassing, investigating and sometimes imprisoning its own citizens, effectively consigning the right to free expression to the dustbin of history.

Here in 2024, Mr. Douthat describes the latest assault on free expression:

The new Scottish law criminalizes public speech deemed “insulting” to a protected group (as opposed to the higher bar of “abusive”), and prosecutors need only prove that the speech was “likely” to encourage hatred rather than being explicitly intended to do so. One can offer a defense based on the speech in question being “reasonable,” and there is a nod to “the importance of the right to freedom of expression.” But a plain reading of the law seems like it could license prosecutions for a comedian’s monologue or for reading biblical passages on sexual morality in public.

Mr. Douthat adds:

My prediction is that neither Rowling nor any figure of her prominence will face prosecution. Rather, what you see in West’s examples is that the speech police prefer more obscure targets: the teenage girl prosecuted for posting rap lyrics that included the N-word or the local Tory official hauled in by the cops after posting to criticize the arrest of a Christian street preacher.

Which is, of course, a normal way for mild sorts of authoritarianism to work. Exceptions are made for prominent figures, lest the system look ridiculous, but ordinary people are taught not to cross the line.

Mindful of this possibility, Ms. Rowling posted on X on Tuesday:

If they go after any woman for simply calling a man a man, I’ll repeat that woman’s words and they can charge us both at once.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

A Spanner in the Works?

PG acknowledges the messages he has received from several visitors about strange behavior on TPV.

He’s going to dig around the dusty foundations to look for various electronic mistakes, nasties, ghosts or evil-doers have been frolicking about.

He suspects he has allowed the active portions of the blog to grow too large, but, of course, he could be wrong.

He’s happy to entertain diagnoses/problems/solutions from one and all.

Art is always political

From The Bookseller:

On Tuesday, Arts Council of England (ACE) released a statement about the organisation’s funding policy. You have all probably read it by now. The statement warned creatives and organisations against “reputational risk” which ACE defined as any “activity that might be considered overtly political and activist and goes beyond your company’s core purpose and partnerships with organisations that might be perceived as being in conflict with the purposes of public funding of culture”. This was not limited to activities directly funded by ACE.

Is any form of art unpolitical? I write from several places of marginality. Author Bell Hooks calls this marginality a place of resistance. I too see this place of otherness not as a place of deprivation but as a place of opportunity and possibility. Anything and everything I write is political. It has to be. My lived experience, much like any other marginalised writer, is a space of refusal to accept what is laid out for us, the boundaries that are set around our existence, the spaces we are not allowed to inhabit. We learn to oppose these norms that limit our existence, and opposition becomes a necessity, not a choice. Writing is a way of writing ourselves into the mainstream, telling stories that are not necessarily heard, challenging the colonisers and oppressors, and imagining a radical new world where these boundaries and hierarchies do not exist anymore. Writing is a way of finding a counter-language, that hooks calls a “space of refusal” where we say no to the language of the colonisers and oppressors and find a language to name the repression. Once we silence these counter-narratives then we silence the language of resistance.

While I am writing this ACE has released an update, a sort of pushed-into-a-corner, we-are-not-really-bad but only-thinking-of-your-own-good statement; a faux-benevolent backtracking. It mentions “freedom of expression” and “artistic freedom” a few times to allay concerns and outrage expressed widely by artists on social media and elsewhere. Nevertheless, it refers once again to reputational risk, to polarisation and puts the onus on the organisations to make sure “that if they, or people associated with them, are planning activity that might be viewed as controversial, they have thought through, and so far as possible mitigated, the risk to themselves and crucially to their staff and to the communities they serve”.

There are larger questions at stake here as to what the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems

Perhaps the timing is merely a coincidence as we are witnessing a artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems among artists against the genocide happening in Palestine. If this is silencing and censorship, then of course it isn’t anything new, but to couch it within a concern for “reputational risk” seems disingenuous. There are larger questions at stake here as to what the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems. If not this, then culture can never evolve beyond the limits of our current imaginations. Preventing creatives from challenging dominant norms, questioning, speaking their truth will only result in a monolith ossified culture, stagnant and festering with dissent and paralysed with fear.

Marginalised writers have lived with these fears for so long. Reputational risk is not something to be taken lightly. For anyone who is an “other” it is an anxiety that lies heavy on their shoulders, something that lurks silently at all times intent on pushing them away further into the margins. The warning against “reputational risk” feels like bullying, and intimidation. And the whole purpose of bullying is to create self-doubt, uncertainty and unease. As we face even more cuts to arts funding and public funding becomes even more scarce, creating a culture of fear is counter-productive to encouraging and supporting innovative art. The ACE stance is silencing of those who have been marginalised, and those who speak up against oppressive forces, telling artists to stay within their boxes, quiet, unchallenging, unresistant, fearful of the repercussions. When people are silenced, it creates hopelessness and despair.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

  1. PG doesn’t agree with more than a bit of the OP. Don’t ask him to identify the bit.
  2. “[fill in the blank] is political!’ is a now ancient technique used by all sorts of people, right, left and center, to shut down argument.
  3. Marginalised, silencing, bullying, intimidation, self-doubt, uncertainty, unease, paralysed with fear, speaking their truth, challenging dominant norms, oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems are in the eye of the beholder. If these conditions are so widespread, horrible and heavy, why doesn’t everyone notice them?
  4. PG’s favorite horror was “faux-benevolent.” Heaven forfend!
  5. “What the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems.”
    • Does anybody think to ask the public how their taxes should be used? Whether they do or don’t want to fund the creation of things they find abhorrent.”
  6. “outrage expressed widely by artists on social media and elsewhere.” Oooh! Outrage! On Social Media! Who would have imagined there was outrage of any sort on social media? How could we possibly miss outraged artists on social media amid so much reasoned, quiet, calm, and polite conversation with never a hint of anger everywhere we look on social media?
  7. And finally, genocide, the all-purpose horror, not to be missed in any tirade.

‘How to murder your husband’ writer sentenced for murdering husband

From The BBC:

An Oregon judge has sentenced Nancy Crampton Brophy, a romance author who apparently foretold of her crime in an essay titled “How to murder your husband”, to life in prison for the shooting death of her late spouse.

Crampton Brophy, 71, was found guilty of second degree murder last month.

A jury found that she shot her husband of 26 years in 2018 for a $1.5m (£1.2m) life insurance pay-out.

Before her crime, Crampton Brophy had been a self-published author whose works of steamy romance and suspense include novels such as “The Wrong Husband” and “The Wrong Lover”.

Her late husband, Daniel Brophy, was a chef and respected teacher at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

He was found shot twice in the kitchen of the Institute in June 2018.

His widow was convicted of the murder last month.

The case attracted much attention for an essay Crampton Brophy had written years before the crime, titled “How to murder your husband”.

“The thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough,” she had said in the now-deleted post.

She listed a number of ways to commit mariticide, from guns and knives to poison and hitmen before writing “it is easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them”.

She added: “If the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail”.

A judge ruled against admitting the essay as evidence at her trial because it was penned years earlier as part of a writing seminar.

But prosecutors did not need the text.

They successfully argued that Crampton Brophy had the motive and the means to murder her partner, showing the couple had fallen on hard times financially, and she stood to pocket a hefty insurance pay-out after his death.

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG suggests that, if you’re planning to commit a crime, it’s a very poor practice to write about a similar crime beforehand or afterwards.

That said, stupid people committing crimes makes life for law enforcement investigators a lot easier.

If you spend a few days as an observer in criminal court, you’ll hear a lot about what one of PG’s granddaughters calls, “bad choices.”

A Frolic of His Own

As all discerning visitors to TPV (is there any other sort of visitor to TPV ?) will recognize, PG changed things up with his postings today.

He’s included the odd poem that floated into his odd consciousness on previous odd occasions but thinks (but could be wrong) he has not made so many posts focused on poetry in a single day has he has today.

PG has had a lot of old poems spinning through his ancient head during the last few days, so he gave into his poetry obsession and included three poems, one each from Ireland, Scotland and England, today.

He hopes you enjoy them.

He expects to return to the proven TPV formula tomorrow, but he can’t guarantee not to go on another poetry frolic of his own. After all, outstanding Minnesang, Flameca, and Chastushka poets remain uncelebrated.

The Queen of Romance in AI

PG promises this is the last of today’s AI writing posts.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Danielle Steel’s style and themes.


Title: “Shadows of Yesterday”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • The story unfolds in modern-day New York City.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Isabella, a young, ambitious, and successful magazine editor facing personal and professional challenges.
  2. Isabella’s Background:
    • Isabella comes from a wealthy, but emotionally distant family.
    • Flashbacks reveal her struggles with her demanding and critical mother, shaping her relentless drive for perfection.
  3. Career Challenges:
    • Isabella is up for a major promotion, but faces stiff competition and workplace politics.
    • Her professional life is a whirlwind of high-profile events, glamorous parties, and celebrity interviews, masking her inner turmoil.
  4. Romantic Entanglements:
    • Isabella’s love life is complicated, caught between a comfortable but unexciting relationship with a longtime friend and a passionate, unpredictable affair with a charismatic entrepreneur.
  5. Family Crisis:
    • A sudden family tragedy forces Isabella to reevaluate her life choices.
    • She returns home to confront unresolved issues with her family, particularly her mother.
  6. Self-Discovery and Growth:
    • Through these trials, Isabella embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
    • She begins to understand the importance of balance in life and starts to question her relentless pursuit of success.
  7. New Love Interest:
    • Amidst her personal growth, Isabella meets a new love interest – someone who challenges her perspectives and offers a more authentic and supportive relationship.
  8. Climactic Decision:
    • Faced with a pivotal career decision, Isabella must choose between her lifelong ambition and a chance at genuine happiness.
    • This decision is complicated by a surprise revelation related to her family’s past.
  9. Resolution:
    • Isabella makes a bold decision that prioritizes her personal happiness and true self over societal expectations.
    • The story concludes with her embarking on a new path, finding a balance between her career ambitions and personal life.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of self-discovery, the complexity of family dynamics, the pursuit of success, and the search for love and personal fulfillment.
    • It highlights the often difficult choices women face in balancing career, family, and romance.

This fictional outline is inspired by Danielle Steel’s style, known for her emotionally rich stories that explore family, relationships, and personal growth set against the backdrop of contemporary life. The plot combines elements of romance, drama, and self-discovery, typical of Steel’s bestselling novels

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG is not an expert on the works of Ms. Steel, he’ll leave comments on the accuracy of the plot outline to those who are.

For PG, this series of “Provide a fictional plot outline in (well-known author’s) style and themes” AI experiments is the first indication that AI might be a potentially-useful tool for authors.

It strikes him that AI might be helpful for beginning authors writing in various genres. PG checked the Romance Writers of America website and this is part of what he found:

The Basics

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you!


Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as they want as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

The same types of expected elements can be found in all the genre fiction that floats into PG’s mind – fantasy, sci-fi, YA, horror, mysteries, etc. His is impression from his personal AI experiments is that one of the things AI can do is generate some interesting ideas for rules-based subjects.

Truth Is What a Comedian Makes of It

From Vulture:

In September, The New Yorker published a story by Clare Malone that detailed five moments from comedian and then-rumored Daily Show host candidate Hasan Minhaj’s specials where he appeared to distort facts in ways that centered himself in stories of racial discrimination or exaggerated his victimhood. In his 2017 Netflix special Homecoming King, for example, Minhaj talks about a white date dumping him the night of the prom because her parents didn’t want them in photos together. When Malone’s reporting called into question the exact timeline and whether the decision was racially motivated, Minhaj defended such decisions to her as being in service of his comedy’s “emotional truth.” The consensus, at least on social media, seemed to be that Minhaj was in the wrong. Then on October 26, Minhaj responded with a very Hasan Minhaj–style video fact-checking The New Yorker’s fact-check, in which he argued that the reporter manipulated quotes and chose not to include critical information. The New Yorker released a statement standing by their reporting, but Minhaj’s defense was enough to split public opinion on which side was more trustworthy.

The story illustrates just how invested fans and assorted onlookers have become in the idea of comedians’ credibility. This is partly attributable to the 21st-century ascent of The Daily Show and political-comedy shows that provided takes on the news, all while the hosts evinced uneasiness with being called “journalists.” A watershed moment occurred in 2004 when Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire and squared off against actual political pundits Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, with many viewers coming away feeling that Stewart was the only one involved who had any journalistic integrity. That same year, a survey revealed that one in five 18-to-29-year-olds got their election news from comedy programs such as The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live.

By 2016, with Stewart off the air, Trump running for president, and the content industry booming, there were comedians for seemingly every demographic in America to trust as a source of news or political commentary. We’ve had shows from Stewart acolytes (including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee), “funny” pundits on Fox News (Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters), and podcasters spanning from the Dirtbag Left (Chapo Trap House) to the Libertarian-ish Joe Rogan Extended Universe (The Tim Dillon Show and Legion of Skanks). Minhaj himself had a Netflix show, Patriot Act, that ran from 2018-2020, underscoring the argument in Malone’s New Yorker piece that comedians such as him have “become the oddball public intellectuals of our time, and, in informing the public, they assume a certain status as moral arbiters.” That perception, however, leaves Minhaj and his peers caught between opposing realities: As a host, he is an authority expected to speak truth to power and adhere to journalistic standards, and as a comic, he is an artist trying to elicit feelings from his audience on a deeper level than if he were to just provide facts and figures.

The relationship that comedians have with the truth has evolved over the last 75 years. While in the past comics were content telling stock jokes or riffing on familiar tropes (wife is bad; mother-in-law is bad; food is bad — and such small portions!), most contemporary comics agree their work should have some kernel of personal truth to it. They just have different perspectives on how to achieve that goal. That tension is something I’ve observed firsthand while interviewing upwards of 200 comedians, including Minhaj, on my podcast Good One over the past seven years. Every performer takes a different approach to stretching, reformatting, and intensifying the truth in their work. Some strive for 100 percent accuracy, going as far as to fact-check with other parties involved in their material. Others try to express their truth based simply on how they remember a given situation. A few invent stories and situations but hope to create something that feels universally true to their audience.

Most often, stand-ups start with the truth and then tinker with the particulars based on audience response. When we spoke in 2020, Bert Kreischer told me about a breakthrough he had while crafting his famous “The Machine” story: the realization that he was too attached to information that would prove the story was true. “I wanted to share things that couldn’t be faked, and that was a mistake,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really cared if it was true or not.”

. . . .

Quick summary of the history of the concept “truth in comedy.” In the 1950s and ’60s, “sick comedians” — your Shelley Bermans, your Lenny Bruces — became models of authenticity, inspired by the great postwar, existentialist-indebted look inward. “Many Americans were attempting to find their ‘real selves,’” wrote Michael J. Arlen in The New Yorker about this movement. “The new entertainers, in addition to playing off on these searches after identity, attempted to gain the goodwill and regard of their audiences by revealing — or, anyway, acknowledging — their ‘real selves.’” A decade passed and Lenny Bruce begot George Carlin and Richard Pryor, both with similar legends of eschewing their mainstream audience and clean-cut presentation in exchange for something more shaggy and “authentic.” Late-’70s Pryor modeled how various forms of truth-telling interweave with each other to earn an audience’s trust, mixing pitch-perfect behavioral impressions with dead-on observational comedy with an exploration of his inner self with openness about his faults and failures with challenging social critique. Then, reacting to the corporatization of stand-up-comedy clubs in the 1980s, ’90s comics showed their authenticity by, say it with me, “not selling out.” This resulted in, for example, Bill Hicks railing against advertising, fashioning himself a sort of maverick, saying things in interviews like, “I’ll continue to be me. As Bob Dylan said, the only way to live outside the law is to be totally honest. So I will remain lawless.” And alternative comedians in the 1990s at shows like L.A.’s UnCabaret, where everyone was required to bring completely new material and discuss things they haven’t talked about before, reacted to the rigid observational jokes and tight, late-night-ready five-minute sets of the ’80s by trying to not perform at all, espousing the mantra of “Fewer jokes; more you.”

Now, the perceived culmination of a lot of these ideals —

Louis C.K. In the story of comedy’s march to be taken more seriously, C.K. was, for nearly a decade, its avatar. And at the center of this celebration was “truth.” The Los Angeles Review of Books called him “television’s most honest man.” The New Yorker wrote in 2015, in an article about a new C.K. special, “Comedians are seen as honest populists: laughter, we think, not only feels good but teases out universal truths.” This perception didn’t come out of nowhere but was cultivated through work and actions that either were genuine or seemed to be.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG suggests that an audience assumes that entertainers will entertain. Different groups of people and different audiences will vary in their preference for various styles of entertainment.

If truth-telling is entertaining to an audience, the truth-telling entertainer has done her/his job. If exaggerating various truths is entertaining for an audience, the entertainer has succeeded. If fabulizing is entertaining to an audience, the entertainer has succeeded in entertaining the audience.

In the 21st Century, “truth” has, unfortunately, become a malleable commodity. Personal truths are often given the same sort of respect as objective truths. PG is an old-fashioned guy who believes that objective truths are something different than “lived experience” because it’s pretty much impossible to verify that “lived experience” actually happened as opposed to being embellishment or outright lies in the furtherance of some end, another goal, good or bad, than telling the objective truth.

But PG could be wrong. Happens all the time.

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: 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 list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation