I’ve been re-reading Orwell’s 1984, for a grade 12 student. Though it’s not one of my favourite books, I like it well enough. Haven’t read it since, let’s see, oh, 1984….
When Winston gets arrested and sent to prison, he meets up with the poet Ampleforth. Ampleforth is in for poetry crime: he left the word, “God”, at the end of a line in a Kipling poem, because he couldn’t find another word to rhyme with “rod”.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” he (Ampleforth)said, “that the whole history of English poetry has been determined by the fact that the English language lacks rhymes?” (Orwell, 1984)
Apparently, that thought had not occurred to Winston. I don’t like Winston, much. Of course, I don’t rhyme my poetry, but I do get frustrated when poets repeat words, or strangle a rhyme out of something non-existent just because they’ve decided to follow some ridiculous rule. Ampleforth’s thought occurs to me on a regular basis.
The new thought (okay, new for me) which rattled my little brain was that our society is not much different than Oceania. There are words we are not permitted to use. No, North Americans aren’t likely to be imprisoned for using a word, but they will lose their jobs, be ridiculed, be ostracised. I’m not referring to a thought (although, go ahead and tell everyone at work there is a God and you’ve seen his face, and see what happens); I’m referring to actual words.
I’m not allowed to teach my students certain choice words. Yes, curses are on the list, but also anything refering to sex, bodily functions, specific religions, alternative lifestyles, any word which might be used as an insult; the list is actually fairly long. At the tutoring centre I work in, a six-year-old boy was literally yelled at for figuring out what happens if you put an “f” in front of “art” (I wasn’t yelled at, but got an extremely disapproving look for congratulating him… and snickering).
The whole history of the English language, my dear Ampleforth, has been determined by people who like to make rules. Why don’t we make a few more arbitrary rules (who, by the way, gets to decide which words are polite and which words are not: the same people who decided leaving your hat on indoors was rude?) and install some telescreens? Perhaps then we will achieve our Utopian society.
I’m re-reading Brave New World next. If there are Thought Police, they’ll be on my case in no time. I am The Savage!