Orwellian, newspeak and doublethink

Seventy-five years ago (8 June 1949), George Orwell’s book “1984” was published. It is set in a dystopian, totalitarian future. Written in 1948 Orwell transcribed  the year to 1984 (26 years into his future, now 40 years in history). Orwell introduced a set of new words and phrases to describe how governments manipulated and controlled people. Many of his words have become used for modern political abuse of information and communications. Orwell didn’t create a Brave New World—that was Aldous Huxley, whose book was written in 1931 (Orwell on scholarship to Eton, was taught by Huxley). 

About 1984

Oceania is one of three warring totalitarian states (also Eurasia and Eastasia). It is governed by the all-controlling “Party”, which has brainwashed the population into unthinking obedience to its leader, Big Brother. The Thought Police help the Party keep power. 

Newspeak and doublethink 

The Party created a language called Newspeak to manipulate the way people think and to support its teachings. Newspeak is a deliberately confusing language with restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, according or Orwell, “to diminish the range of thought. 

”Newspeak is based on doublethink—being able to hold opposite ideas at the same time. It enables the Party’s slogans: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength”.  

Doublethink according to Winston Smith, the main character of 1984, is: 

“to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink.” 


The Orwellian future, so much talked about in literature, may not have happened by 1984, but we may now be seeing it become reality. We are approaching a time when misinformation and A-I-created content is moving into the realm of “deepfake” where we have very few tools to deal with it.  

“Deepfake” is a word Orwell would have loved. It refers to synthetic media, including images, videos, and audio, generated by AI technology that portray something that does not exist in reality or events that have never occurred.  

But, despite the many words George Orwell created, the one that is most powerful is the adjective “Orwellian” that suggests that politicians are using his imagined repressive techniques of to control us.