George Orwell once wrote, in his classic essay “Politics and the English language”:
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.
A fine illustration of the kind of sloppy language Orwell warned us about appears in the Hindustan Times today, in a piece written by a minister in our national government, Ashwani Kumar. He writes:
For the record, and by way of a gentle reminder, it needs to be reiterated that Nehru’s contribution as the architect of modern India and as the leader of the freedom movement is firmly established in the annals of modern Indian history. Nehru’s pre-eminence is assured for his idealism and for being the one who articulated in his vision the will of his age and redeemed his promise through ceaseless service of his people.
That second sentence, especially, is monstrous, and I worry when the language of our politicians is so shabby, for it surely reflects in the way they think as well. (“Will of his age”? Individuals have a will, ages don’t!) And yes, it is entirely possible that Mr Kumar’s first language may not be English, but there is then surely all the more reason for simple writing. The rest of his piece, in which he defends the Nehru-Gandhi family with all the eagerness and lucidity of a well-trained labrador, is quite as worrying.
(As if you haven’t read it already, here’s my piece on the Nehru-Gandhi family. And yes, I know a case can be made for the family as well, but for FSM’s sake, make it well then!)