During last evening’s votes in the House, John Boehner ordered a moment of silence for the victims of yesterday’s terror bombings of the Boston Marathon. It was a timid, sentimental call, an act of retreat from any statement of rage or resolve. The president muttered something about “senseless loss” caused by “explosions.” Not deliberate bombings, just unspecified explosions . As if there had been a gas leak.

There was nothing senseless about them. Terror has a purpose, one our political class and a courtier press prefer to deflect attention from. Political language, Orwell reminded, is ” designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

 

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Achille Beltrane. Massacre of the Armenians by the Turks. (1909)

 

In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell remarks:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen house.

 

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Palma Giovane. First Attack on Constantiople by the Turks in 1453.

 


Justinian’s great Hagia Sophia is now a mosque. We have no guarantee that the star and crescent will not fly one day over St. Peter’s. Or the White House. Nothing, that is, except vigilance and the language to sustain it.

 

 

Articles by Maureen Mullarkey

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