by Adam Belter
Doran White: The creation and destruction of words
|Before his almost expected death, Syme expressed his amazement about the destruction of words. All those useless shades of meaning the Party wanted to get rid of… But the destruction of words isn’t enough to do that. Every day, we invent new terms, or use them with new meanings. Idioms and slang make every language interesting. Besides, there are also metaphors and other ways of speaking analogically. Mutilating English couldn’t begin with the brute destruction of unpleasant vocabulary. It had to begin with twisting the human mind. Julia fell asleep when Winston explained Dr. Goldstein’s book to her, a case of the Party’s conditioning. The “protective stupidity” described in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism —called crimestop— was essential, and it would continue to be so in the age of Newspeak.|
The dictators wanted to absolutely fix every word’s meaning in their brave new language, and assure that no new words were born. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to eliminate the “bad” meanings. But how do you do that? Surely, they’d have to punish those who use other meanings, those the Party didn’t assign, as well as those who invent new words. Just like they did in the novel, they’d censure thoughtcrime with precision and cruelty, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me. Because, first, they’d have to ensure that the desired meaning is precisely defined. And the smaller the lexicon, the less possible clarity; almost every term would have to have multiple senses, and not necessarily the ones the Party wants.
I think it would all begin with the creation of terms, that could be purged later on. That way the meanings that need to be destroyed could be isolated from the acceptable ones, or else simply made vague. We saw the same thing in past decades, when activists went around inventing hundreds and thousands of words to “make room” for the easily offended. The majority were justified as distinctions, a false subtlety that didn’t ever clarify thought, but only incessantly muddied it up. The reason being, in this case, that the majority weren’t meant to make distinctions; their purpose was to dissociate certain concepts from other notions. The circumlocution “person with a vulva” instead of “woman” is an early example, isolating the biological facts from the concept that was defined by such facts (and other truths). For the sense of any concept rests in its relation with yet others, so that severing their connection will alter our understanding, and even destroy the concept itself. Afterwards, we only have to go away with the useless words. Now they denote concepts that we don’t understand, that, consequently, we no longer have.