What Would Orwell Think? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

What Would Orwell Think?

What Would Orwell Think?

By Pooja Bhatia



Orwell made us think differently about language, politics and totalitarianism. Do him right by getting your Orwell references straight. 

Pooja Bhatia

Pooja Bhatia

Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.

Today, Orwell’s name is now nearly a cliche: We use the term Orwellian to blast everything from the Obama administration’s control-freak policies on White House photographers to the titles of legislation and irradiated food. Similarly, 1984’s lexicon has seeped into our own. Last week, Pastor Rick Warren criticized the term gay marriage as Orwellian “doublespeak, where words mean the exact opposite of what they used to mean.”The book continues to resonate, and it probably will for as long as politics, free expression and language exist. It was samizdat for artists and activists behind the Iron Curtain. Back in the actual year 1984, Apple evoked the novel’s terrifying dystopia in its Super Bowl ad for the company’s soon-to-be-unveiled Macintosh: ”And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984,” intoned the announcer, depicting the computer as a means of individual liberation. As the War on Terror ramped up, creepy security campaigns like “Total Information Awareness” made us think of Big Brother, and just this summer, sales of 1984 spiked after Edward Snowden’s relevations about the NSA’s PRISM project.

Actually, the word doublespeak does not appear anywhere in 1984. There are doublethink, and newspeak, and thoughtcrime, and plenty of other neologisms. But no doublespeak or doubletalk. Perhaps malapropism is just another sign of Orwell’s influence, but in case you want to distinguish your Minitrues from Miniluvs and duckspeak from doublespeak, look no further, comrades. Below, OZY provides a handy key to the official idiom of 1984 — and the contours of the terrifying regime that created it. 

BW headshot of George Orwell

Source Corbis

The Official Idiom of 1984


English Socialist Party, also the name of the regime’s political ideology. Big Brother is its leader. He may or may not exist. 


Every resident of Oceana has one. It transmits and receives signals, enabling the regime to propagandize and to watch its subjects. There’s no shutting it off. The feeling of being watched controls the population as much, if not more than, the actual watching.


The language invented by Ingsoc. Unlike other languages, its vocabulary diminishes over time, because the fewer the words, the “smaller the temptation to take thought.” Words like freedom are subsumed under the term crimethink


How the especially orthodox speak. The speech seems to issue from the larynx directly, making no stop in the brain, and sounds staccato and quacky. 


Simultaneously holding two opinions that contradict each other and believing both of them. For instance: “Ingosoc is the guardian of democracy and democracy is impossible.” Orwell’s appendix to 1984, a sort of Newspeak primer, notes that “[e]ven to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of ‘doublethink.’”

Hate Week

A weeklong festival of communal hate, directed against Eastasia or Eurasia — whichever country Oceania is at war with — and/or Emmanual Goldstein, a traitor to the party. It’s supplemented by a daily “Two Minutes Hate,” held at workplaces throughout London at 11 a.m., during which employees express a frenzy of repressed emotions, usually violently. “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to play a part, but that it was impossble to avoid joining in.”

Freedom Is Slavery

War Is Peace

Ignorance Is Strength

The three slogans of Ingsoc. If they make sense, you either are a master of doublethink or have stopped thinking altogether, as the regime wants you to.


The Ministry of Peace, which deals with war.




The Ministry of Truth, which censors, revises and obliterates media and cultural material that offends the regime. Protagonist Winston Smith works in the Records Department, revising old newspaper articles to make Ingsoc and Big Brother sound like they have always been right. Smith’s colleague down the hall translates English poetry into Newspeak. His eventual lover, in the Fiction Department, manufactures novels in a contraption that involves grease and machinery. 


The Ministry of Love, which is responsible for maintaining law and order. It houses a torture chamber. 

Room 101

The place in Miniluv reserved for meting out the cruelest and most horrific tortures. Home of the worst thing in the world, the thing the torture victim fears most. 


Thinking thoughts that the regime would deem threatening. Thoughtcrime is monitored by the thought police.


Intercourse between a married man and woman for the sole purpose of begetting children. It lacks physical pleasure on the woman’s part.


Everything else. The regime’s neurologists are trying to abolish the orgasm.

Pooja Bhatia

Pooja Bhatia

Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.

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