For anyone who has never read Orwell’s frightening take on fascism, the story takes place a future (even the protagonist only guesses at the year) where all life is controlled through autocracy. The government goes one step further than Putin or Stalin’s Russia, changing the language to control thought.
The Ingsoc regime even brags that the dictionary is smaller each year, with more words purged or combined. You see, words are thought. Orwell even goes so far as to explain that older notions of freedom and equality cannot even be rendered in Newspeak except under the single word crimethink.
To this end all artists, writers especially, need to embrace as many words as possible. The broader our vocabulary, the more nuanced and accurate our thoughts can be. I own multiple thesauruses (physical and app) and often pour over the contents in search for the correct word.
Yes, you say, but people don’t have time to do this all the time.
Yes, but why do people work out or push themselves in the gym? Most will never enter athletic competitions requiring an extreme level of fitness. Instead, it’s a way to tone your physique. Words are the same, only they tune your mind.
Take gender neutral pronouns (like they, ze, zim and zir). When I was first introduced to these, the rigid grammar teacher in me resisted. But gradually, the more I used these pronouns, the more my brain began to accept them. In essence, the way I saw the world shifted.
The same phenomenon happens when you learn a new language.
I’m currently delving into Japanese and find the way certain thoughts are formed to be mind-shattering. Putting a child (子) in a house (字) and then having the helping hands of caring adults (学) created the word for study or learning. Or take the phrase 気分が悪い, which means “I feel sick”. Yet it literally means that you have a little bit of evil inside you.
When I learned a bit of German, I stumbled across Die Nervensäge, which translates to a pest or nuisance. Yet it literally means “sawing through your nerves.” We’ve all met people like these.
English itself is a messy language and often when someone says something, I have to pause a moment to fully understand what they said. Except misinterpretations can lead to some interesting results.
Paul McCartney was on a plane when someone asked him to pass the salt and pepper. He heard “Sergeant Pepper” and thus one of rock’s best albums was born.
Orwell’s Newspeak was based on the idea of limiting thought. It strived to have crystal clear meanings with zero ambiguity.
Yet as artists, we thrive on those images that seem to spring up out of nowhere. The idea of someone sawing through your nerves or having a tiny kernel of evil lodged inside you — all spawned simply from words.
Page through that thesaurus. Learn a new language. Search up etymologies. The reward will be an expanded way of thinking.