Notizbuch eines Philologen

Every couple of months I read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language and get really jazzed about writing something. Usually, if I'm rereading an essay it's because I have free time to waste and hence very little to write about, but I just happen to have read about something interesting in my side reading for The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

In 1946 Orwell wrote:

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

Victor Klemperer was a German Jew and literature professor specializing in French. The Nuremberg Laws deprived him of his academic post, and until the end of WWII he worked in a factory. (He escaped a worse fate because his wife was "Aryan".) As he said later, the only way to hit back was to write, and he kept a diary in which he detailed the ways the Nazi regime degraded the German language.

How many concepts and emotions were not sullied and poisoned by it? At the "night school" of the Dresden Volksschule and in the organized discussions of the Kulturbund and the Free German Youth, I have been struck many times by the manner in which young people, in complete innocence and with a sincere effort on fallow ground to remedy the gaps and distractions of their lost education, hold to the modes of Nazi thought. They are utterly unconscious of this; the revolutionary epoch's language habits, which they have conserved, seduce and induce them to error.

You can read a few chapters of the book that resulted from these notes, called Lingua Tertii Imperii (The Language of the Third Reich), here.

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