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Objects of the class “George Orwell”

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George Orwell is an exemplar in so many ways: a famed truth-teller who made things up, a left-winger who mocked left-wingers, an author of a much-misunderstood novel (see “Objects of the class ‘Sherlock Holmes,’”) probably a few dozen more.

But here I’m talking about Orwell’s name being used as an adjective. More specifically, “Orwellian” being used to refer specifically to the sort of doublespeak that Orwell deplored. When someone says something is Orwellian, they mean it’s something that Orwell would’ve hated.

Another example: Kafkaesque. A Kafkaesque world is not something Kafka would’ve wanted.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with referring to doublespeak as Orwellian—the man did write a lot about it! It’s just interesting to think of things named after people who hated them.

28 Comments

  1. Rick G says:

    “Smith et al is fatally flawed, nothing more than a Gelmanic stroll through the garden of forking paths”

  2. Z says:

    ‘Dickensian’ is sometimes used to describe grotesque poverty, which I assume he didn’t like.

  3. Eh Steve says:

    What is his misunderstood novel, and how is it misunderstood? Also, how is Sherlock Holmes (not a novel, but I know what you mean) misunderstood?

    I think the naming of things as Orwellian, Kafkaesque, etc. is like the naming of a disease after its discoverer. It’s safe to say that Dr. Alzheimer, Dr. Hodgkin, etc. were not big fans of the diseases named after them, but now they have their names.

    • Andrew says:

      Eh:

      The often misunderstood novel is Nineteen Eighty Four. It’s my impression that a lot of people think of that novel as describing the future as a soul-killing material paradise in which people have physical comforts but lack freedom. Actually, though, in the book just about everybody is poor and physically uncomfortable (as well as lacking freedom).

      The Sherlock Holmes thing is that it’s my impression that a lot of people think of Sherlock Holmes as just solving crimes by sitting in a chair and thinking. But actually Holmes spends a lot of time out and about: he’s a physically fit guy, not just a brain in a vat.

      • Rahul says:

        What about Hercule Poirot? Does he fit the “brain in a vat” / body-in-a-chair stereotype?

      • Andy says:

        “The often misunderstood novel is Nineteen Eighty Four. It’s my impression that a lot of people think of that novel as describing the future as a soul-killing material paradise in which people have physical comforts but lack freedom. “

        Anyone who has actually read the book must know that it cannot possibly be interpreted in that way. So I can only assume that the people you describe have based that “interpretation” on secondhand knowledge, probably muddled up with Brave New World (which is about a soul-destroying eugenic utopia).

        Having said that, I’ve always heard Nineteen Eighteen Four described correctly, as an unpleasant world where people are forced into believing (or at least repeating) that life is physically comfortable (a la North Korea).

      • Thomas says:

        That reminds me of something an elderly Canadian activist said to the anarchist George Woodcock when the subject of Orwell’s novel came up: “I have never been able to forget, the tragic love of those two young people!” It is possible to read it as a kind of Romeo and Juliet, it seems.

        I have to say that I’ve peronally never met anyone who didn’t associate 1984 with crushing miserable poverty. But maybe some people confuse or conflate it with Brave New World?

      • Keith O'Rourke says:

        With Holmes, most of his successes arguably came from insightful/profitable guesses or abductions not deductions – but he claimed otherwise.

        “I never guess.” – Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four

        Some details here (actually a lot) – http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/b_resources/abduction.html#n3

      • I think that the misunderstanding about the Orwell’s novels is because many people think that “1984” and “Animal’s Farm” are supposed to be anti-communists, or even anti-socialists (they aren’t – the books were intended to be criticisms *from the left*, accusing the Soviet rulers of being traitors against the revolution, or something like that)

  4. Rahul says:

    Only satire makes this class possible?

  5. Kenneth Carlson says:

    When people were looking for a word for what we now call electrocution, Thomas Edison suggested “Westinghousing.”

  6. Jonathan says:

    An interesting case is “welshed”, as in welshed or welched on a bet. OED can’t trace it back to anything. There are a few references in the 19thC from racetracks and a weird story of an idea that bookies who lost could flee over the border, which simply wasn’t true and which seems related to the Scottish wedding idea, that you’d skip across the border to Gretna Green where the marriage laws didn’t apply. Another guess may connect them: that it refers to the story/legend that Edward I promised to name an heir from Wales and then had his son there. The story of a promise is legend but Edward I did conquer Wales and did have Edward II with his devoted Castilian wife Eleanor at Caernarfon so the concept of pacifying the Welsh and then “welshing” them makes some sense and, more importanty, it was a known legend so it also makes sense that you’d “welsh on a promise”, which makes the Welsh the objects of the welshing not the perpetrators.

    • Dzhaughn says:

      (1) Perhaps it is outside the class, because the adjectival form “Welsh” does not carry the derogatory meaning of the verb form.

      (2) Compare the “Indian giver” epithet from the USA for an even stronger example. But it also lacks an adjectival form.

    • Paul Alper says:

      Although the U.S. vocabulary is replete with derogatory names for various ethnic groups–no need to name them–Welch is not among them so “welching on a bet” is unconnected to Wales. Not so in England where in addition “Dutch treat,” unlike in the U.S., has a decidedly negative connotation. And when is the last time you read or heard the term, “Jewess”? Or of the circumlocution, “She is of the Hebraic persuasion”? Stuff comes in, and happily, often goes out.

  7. Dzhaughn says:

    How about “Dantean” in its sense of imagery from the Inferno. (Since so many stopped reading after book 1 of the Divine Comedy.)

    Lovecraftian hardly counts as a word, but if it was, he was not really a supporter of demonic rule of New England.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think another interesting word here would be “Machiavellian”.

    Even before one considers how little relation it has even to The Prince itself, its usage is practically the complete opposite of Machiavelli’s values.

  9. Baruch says:

    Orwell is an exemplar in another (somewhat, unpleasing sense, as an admirer of much of his work) — he is a humanist who was seemingly also an antisemite — this I base on his depiction of the Jew in “Down and out…”.

  10. Corey says:

    “Epicurean” as an adjective is based on a misapprehension of Epicurus’s philosophy.

  11. Jonathan (another one) says:

    If you think of him as a scientist looking for truth above all else, Newtonian comes to mind, possibly even Einsteinian. The shade of Lysenko undoubtedly looks down on Lysenkoism, certainly as interpreted.
    For all we know, Darwin today would not be a Darwinian, nor Marx a Marxist as we see the things those terms have come to mean.

  12. When the adjectives are formed from characters’ names, it seems they’re more apt than adjectives formed from authors’ names.

    So, for instance, if I heard about a “Gogolian” real estate transaction, I would have at least ten ideas of what this might be–but if it were a “Chichikovian” transaction, I’d get it right away.

    In Russian, there’s the handy suffix -shchina, which can be added to many names. For instance, “Oblomovshchina” is a quality of slothfulness and hedonism associated with Ivan Goncharov’s character Oblomov. There’s a famous article by N. A. Dobroliubov, “What is Oblomovism?” (“Chto takoe oblomovshchina?”)

  13. jrc says:

    Nietzschean: used to describe nihilistic ideas, art or behavior.

  14. David W Hogg says:

    Didn’t Orwell turn in people or report on their communist activities? This Wikipedia Page claims to have details. So perhaps “Orwellian” is more apposite than opposite..?

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