***Disclaimer: potentially offensive language below***
I’m reading through 1984 for what is now the second time. I’ve already noticed a few interesting things that I hadn’t years ago in high school. One of which is when Winston is talking with Syme about the Newspeak Dictionary.
Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it…Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.
Newspeak is the developing language of INGSOC that destroys words by the hundred to strip language down to its bare essentials. In effect, this limits the range of thought by limiting the vocabulary of the populace. If they don’t have a word to express something, they can’t hold that thought in their mind, and they certainly can’t act upon it. Not only is this both intriguing and concerning, but it shows that the relationship between thoughts and words is not uni-directional. Our thoughts lead to new words as our words impact the thoughts of ourselves as well as others.
This concept came up in a Communication and Gender class I took. The professor had the class shout out words that could be used to describe a female and a male to show how the language we employ affects the audience’s perception of the subject. Some of the words used for a female were: woman, cunt, lady, whore, girl, madam, bitch, and slut. For a male we had: man, asshole, gentleman, prick, boy, sir, bastard, and douchebag. Without getting into which sex has more offensive terms used against them (it’s females by the way) which gets into an interesting discussion about shaming women, and using female offensive terms to shame men (like ‘bitch’). This idea relates to Newspeak because the words we use matter. Calling someone a gentleman instead of a douchebag carries an entirely different meaning to those listening, including the speaker’s bias and the presumed characteristics of the subject. With one word, you could change how an entire population thinks about someone.
All that to say, words matter, as I’m sure we’re all aware. But even more so, our vocabularies need to grow and develop if we’re to properly express ourselves. Otherwise, our words will lose their meanings, and we’ll end up calling everyone ‘Comrade.’