George Orwell Explains How “Newspeak” Works, the Official Language of His Totalitarian Dystopia in 1984

As we noted yesterday, and you likely noticed elsewhere, George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 shot to the top of the charts—or the Amazon bestseller list—in the wake of “alternative facts,” the latest Orwellian coinage for bald-faced lying. The ridiculous phrase immediately produced a barrage of parodies, hashtags, and memes; healthy ways of venting rage and disbelief. But maybe there is a danger there too, letting such words sink into the discourse, lest they become what Orwell called “Newspeak.”

It’s easy to hear “Newspeak,” the “official language of Oceania,” as “news speak.” This is perfectly reasonable, but it gives us the impression that it relates strictly to its appearance in mass media. Orwell obviously intended the ambiguity—it is the language of official propaganda after all—but the portmanteau actually comes from the words “new speak”—and it has been created to supersede “Oldspeak,” Orwell writes, “or Standard English, as we should call it.”

In other words, Newspeak isn’t just a set of buzzwords, but the deliberate replacement of one set of words in the language for another. The transition is still in progress in the fictional 1984, but is expected to be completed “by about the year 2050.” Students of history and linguistics will recognize that this is a ludicrously accelerated pace for the complete replacement of one vocabulary and syntax by another. (We might call Orwell’s English Socialists “accelerationsts.”) Newspeak appears not through history or social change but through the will of the Party.

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.

It’s entirely plausible that “alternative facts,” or “altfacts,” would fit right into the “Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak Dictionary,” though it might easily fall out of favor and “be suppressed later.” No telling if it would make the cut for “the final, perfected version” of Newspeak, “as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the Dictionary.”

These quotations come not from the main text of 1984 but from an appendix called “The Principles of Newspeak,” which you can hear read at the top of the post. Here, Orwell dispassionately discusses the “perfected” form of Newspeak, including its grammatical “peculiarities,” such as “an almost complete interchangeability between different parts of speech” (an issue current translators have encountered). He then introduces its vocabulary, divided into “three distinct classes,” A, B, and C.

The A class contains “everyday life” words that have been mutated with cumbersome prefixes and intensifiers: “uncold” for warm, “pluscold and doublepluscold” for “very cold” and “superlatively cold.” The B class contains the compound words: sinister doublethink coinages like “joycamp (forced-labor camp)” and “Minipax (Ministry of Peace, i.e. Ministry of War).” These, Orwell explains, are similar to “the characteristic features of political language… in totalitarian countries” of the early 20th century.

The citizen of Oceania, Orwell tells us, must have “an outlook similar to that of the ancient Hebrew who knew, without knowing much else, that all nations other than his own worshipped ‘false gods’…. His sexual life, for example, was entirely regulated by the two Newspeak words sexcrime (sexual immorality) and goodsex (chastity).” The latter included only “intercourse between man and wife, for the sole purpose of begetting children, and without physical pleasure on the part of he woman: all else was sexcrime.

The C class of words may be the most insidious of all. While it “consisted entirely of scientific and technical terms” that “resembled the scientific terms in use today,” the Party took care “to define them rigidly and strip them of undesirable meanings.” For example,

There was no vocabulary expressing the function of Science as a habit of mind, or a method of thought irrespective of its particular branches. There was, indeed, no word for ‘Science,’ any meaning that it could possibly bear being already sufficiently covered by the word Ingsoc.

Orwell then goes on to discuss the difficulty of translating the work of the past into Newspeak. He uses as an example the Declaration of Independence: “All mans are equal was a possible Newspeak sentence,” but only in that “it expressed a palpable untruth—i.e. that all men are of equal size, weight, or strength.” As for the rest of Thomas Jefferson’s rousing preamble, “it would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak,” writes Orwell. “The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”

Related Content:  

George Orwell’s 1984 Is Now the #1 Bestselling Book on Amazon

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Huxley to Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours (1949)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (18) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (18)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • bruce says:

    i have been feeling this cloud for a few months about 1984
    it was a school where we read it
    to this day i fear it

  • Bill W. says:

    He’d be amused by the ‘fake news’ coming from BOTH sides of today’s culture-wars…

  • Brian says:

    “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” George Orwell

  • Randy says:

    SocJus has been doing this for years.

  • Huxley remark interesting- but I see both not either/or.

  • Whats up says:

    Help I am stuck in a Chinese fortune cookie factory

  • John Raven says:

    Interesting as 1984 Newspeak is, of course, a language, for example English, is not a permanent unchanging thing. We can only just comprehend Anglo-Saxon or Medieval English and Shakespeare is hard to interpret at times. Language is a tool of culture and culture is never static. Words are being added and changed in meaning all the time. So I doubt any ruling class can control its words and meanings though it may control what it allows in media, eg gay is no longer the gay, meaning happy and carefree that I grew up with.

  • Ibby says:

    Yeah this is the one fact that I kept bumping back into as I tried to swallow the concept. But in Oceania it seems more feasible if you account for generations of consistent control of ALL media as well as a very efficient thinkpol.

    However… It wouldn’t be long before the proles came up with their own street dialects of Newspeak that express their unorthodox feelings most efficiently, and would eventually threaten to ‘infect’ the linguistics of the Outer party much as the street slang of America’s urban underclasses has today deeply seeped through to the language of us, the blogging-yuppie class (America’s ‘Outer Party’).

    You feel me John Raven?

  • Tony says:

    The term “alternative facts” is a legal term that attorneys use in reference to arguing a position and Conway is an attorney. The author of this piece knows, or should have known, this. This is an example of purposeful misunderstanding of a term in order to vilify someone with whom you have an ideological difference of opinion. Ironically, your assertion that “alternative facts” being Orwellian is actually more Orwellian than the term itself.

  • Dave says:

    “It’s entirely plausible that ‘alternative facts,’ or ‘altfacts,’ would fit right into the ‘Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak Dictionary,’ though it might easily fall out of favor and ‘be suppressed later.'”

    Not only might it be suppressed later, this would be essential. The word’s very existence in the language would acknowledge that there were by contrast “real facts” out there.

  • Phil says:

    Latinx, cisgender, white fragility, homophobia, safe space, violent speech, undocumented Americans…

  • Alan Egusa says:

    This article basically says that the “Newspeak” (word from Orwell’s novel) of the BLM rioters is impossible to use rationally. Newspeak = new speak, not news speak. It is a totally new language. This language is based on irrational whims (emotions), and you are automatically supposed to know what these words mean (you are supposed to be a “mind-reader”). As an example, a “racist” is anyone who disagrees with the BLM rioters, whatever that means. It is not supposed to be specific. Being specific implies that it is rational. It is not.

  • paulypower says:

    MTV convert people to newspeak. “Mans is bad innit”. is a perfect example meaning “Do you think that man there is good” Orwell specifically used ungood meaning the opposite of good but we are talking of doublethink and newspeak as it is today.

  • Like says:

    In times of Corona radical constructivists or postmodernists still do not acknowledge that there are real facts out there… they just wait for a vaccine and do not talk about it^^.

  • Debra Butler says:

    As a senior and avid devotee to all things historical, I don’t find this topic of News Speak anything new really. In Roman times the ruling elite cajoled their poor by letting them watch gladiators,another word for kidnapped foreigners, kill and mame with a free roasted kill of beautiful animals afterwards. Citizen manipulation is not new. Hence, us masses need to keep ourselves informed.

  • Itajara Epinephelus says:

    Orwell was an extremely self-contradicting and self-identity loathing man. It was his signature mental dish- he explained the darkness in others by reaching into himself and finding a similar darkness. The problem is we aren’t used to that sort of honesty- so many folks take his criticism of a thing to mean he didn’t support it. Ingsoc is a good example; most people on the right consider Orwell an enemy of socialism as a result- they only read his fiction, it seems. Yet (full text at ):

    “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism… And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity…

    When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

    Yes, Orwell hated Communism. Why? This is from the preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm:

    “In my opinion, nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated. And so for the last ten years, I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement.”

    Usually, when I mention this, or that Orwell volunteered to fight for a Marxist (anarchist) antifa group, where his experience with socialism made him a lifelong devotee- they balk. It isn’t just that they disagree- it is that they disagree yet are somehow to busy to verify quotes I bring that would show this to be true. Its cognitive dissonance.

    They wouldn’t like his view of America, for instance:

    “Most of the employees were the hard-boiled, Americanized, go-getting type to whom nothing in the world is sacred, except money. They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket. And yet beneath their cynicism there was the final naivete, the blind worship of the money-god.”
    -Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)

    Regarding the Nazism / socialism thing:
    “the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite. The driving force behind the Nazi movement is the belief in human inequality, the superiority of Germans to all other races, the right of Germany to rule the world. Outside the German Reich it does not recognize any obligations.”
    -Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn (1941), Part II

  • Melanie Lee says:


    We think it goodthink that all mens are the same, that they have always had life, choice, and goodseek. To keep goodthink, the Party has always lived, taking their power with the goodthink of mens. When the Party is ungood to its purpose, the proles and the mens can unhave the Party and have a new Party…

    (Note: I saw this as a challenge a few years ago, and I took it on.)

  • paulg says:

    The author is actually quite gifted in newspeak, for he instinctively chooses an issue of reasonable debate on a certain topic as being a off limits and unacceptable. The regime is always in newspeak mode, even when discussing Orwell 1984. They cant help themselves, its what they do.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.