What Brevity Should Mean

Commenter David P. offers an insightful comment to my post on technology and brain development:

Newspeak, the language invented by George Orwell for “1984,” nicely illustrates the connection between language and docility. In creating Newspeak the Party simplified the vocabulary as much as possible by eliminating many synonyms so that, for example, all the variations of good and bad, such as outstanding, horrible, etc. were reduced to “good” and “ungood.” Degrees of goodness or badness were indicated by adding the prefixes “plus” or “double plus” so that something really bad would be described and “double plus ungood.” Orwell posited that by reducing the ability to express ideas, the ability to actually have ideas and think about them would atrophy. It seems to me that reducing the space in which to express an idea to a text or twitter screen can have the same effect.

The irony — I suppose you could call it — with “reducing the space” for communication is that it really ought to suggest language that is more full, as in poetry, rather than more empty. The word “horrific” contains much more information than the phrase “double plus ungood,” let alone a text-like shorthand of “bad.” (I’m sure there’s an acronym of which I’m unaware.)
The problem is that it’s a little bit more work to come up with just the right word to capture the nature of the deed and the speaker’s reaction to it than to offer a catch-all catch phrase. The brevity of texting, as of newspeak, is brevity not just of language, but of thought. That is what makes it the road to manipulated slavery.
If all ungood acts have the same label, then what matters is not so much the criticism, but who offers it in what circumstances, which will always favor those in power.

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11 years ago

The POTUS appoints judges to the SCOTUS. The KKK was racist. The AEF helped win WWI. WACS served in WWII. The General Purpose vehicle used in WWII was called a GP which has come down to today as a Jeep. The USA has agencies called FBI, CIA, NSA, USIA, etc. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation is called laser. Simultaneous peripheral operations on-line is usually referred to as SPOOLing. Feel free to add your own. Let him who has never said laser throw the first stone.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Those are terms for specific things. Saying that a group is the FBI or the Federal Bureau of Investigations conveys no different information (mostly because the speaker assumes that the hearer automatically fills in the blanks following the acronym), and most definitely no qualitative information.
I know you seek always to find clever ways to prove yourself our intellectual superior, but this one was really so easy that a moment’s thought would have brought you to the distinction between my topic and your response.

11 years ago

Do I detect hostility here? How about a reconciliation party? BYOB!

11 years ago


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