Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Newspeak lives


I see shadow Ingsoc education secretary Tristam Hunt wishes to introduce children to Newspeak. It seems a little early as they are bound to find out soon enough, but maybe the guy is progressive. If he gets his way then no doubt the kiddies will learn about totalitarian government too.

Children should be kicked out of school if they call each other “gay” in the playground, Labour says, as it is “damaging the life chances” of Britain's youth.

The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt announced that Labour would enforce “zero tolerance” of homophobic bullying in “every classroom, dinner hall and playground”.

So much meat on this bone it isn't easy to know where to start. I think I'll begin with George Orwell's 1984 - it's usually a good place to start. Presumably Mr Hunt read the book once upon a time, but maybe some of the nuances of Newspeak escaped his attention.

Orwell had it about right. The point about Newspeak isn't so much the language itself but the fact that it automatically creates a domain of unsafe language - and therefore unsafe thinking. Use it and you are comparatively safe from the thought police. Stray beyond it and you are not.

Not only that, but there is a continually updated Newspeak dictionary too. Don't have the latest version? Oh dear, it's off to room 101 with you.

So the word 'gay' now seems to mean whatever the thought police want it to mean. What it means to a child in the playground is anyone's guess, but that's not the point. Safe and unsafe language is the point.

Have a gay day.


Sackerson said...

The idea was not so much to create an off-limits zone of vocabulary, as to eradicate any words that could help one begin to conceive of rebellion.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Well i dunno.

If a genuinely gay kid were hounded for simply being gay, that would be a very bad thing indeed.

But I find that double-misuse of the word gay to mean 'really awful' quite hilarious.

It's not really homophobic, because only a homophobe would perceive it as an insult.

i.e. "Your house is gay"

"Oh, do you mean imaginative, clean and tasteful?"

Just doesn't work, does it?

Anonymous said...

In the context of schoolchildren 'gay' seems merely another insult and naughty word to use. The more fuss adults make the better they enjoy it. Politicians will always talk of 'zero tolerance' and tough-sounding words without any intention of putting them into practice. Foolish zealots will burden teachers etc with impossible burdens that politicians will not fund and so we go deeper into the mire.

As you say, there are many areas of discourse where it has become impossible to have any reasonable debate, self censorship is the word.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I don't think so. That's how Syme presents it but Orwell must also have understood that Newspeak would lead to escape behaviour and become the only comparatively safe haven.

For Syme it wasn't of course, but he couldn't really use it.

Mark - it's punishment which is bound to lead to escape behaviour. For many that will mean a general aversion to unsafe language, not merely the word "gay".

Roger - yes it's just another naughty word. As you say, the foolish zealots are the problem. Whether Hunt realises or cares about that - who knows?

James Higham said...

Doesn't make me happy and gay, that.

graham wood said...

Hunt presumably never learned the old nursery thyme:

"sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me"

Homophobic? Wuzzzzat?

A K Haart said...

James - just as well (:

Graham - that's what we were taught. Much better than moaning to officialdom.