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George Orwell, Suffolk County Council and the English language

George Orwell, who spent some of his formative years in Southwold before writing two great novels about totalitarianism, wrote that political language, “…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

He was born Eric Blair and took his pen name from the river which, a short distance from Endeavour House, home of Suffolk County Council, changes its name from Orwell to the Gipping.

The quotation in the first paragraph is taken his essay, Politics and the English Language, which was written in 1946, after he had written Animal Farm but before publication of 1984.

Now, the political debasement of the English language is continuing in the headquarters of Suffolk County Council.

Late last year the council launched its “Suffolk Care Homes Consultation 2010“.

Now the results have been published, but it is no longer a “consultation”. It has become a “conversation”.

The two words are not interchangeable. If I say I am going to the doctor for a consultation, it means one thing. Having a conversation with my doctor is something else.

The Oxford Dictionary shows the difference:

  • Consultation noun [mass noun] the action or process of formally consulting or discussing: they improved standards in consultation with consumer representatives [count noun]: consultations between all sections of the party [count noun] a meeting with an expert, such as a medical doctor, in order to seek advice.
  • Conversation noun a talk, especially an informal one , between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged: she picked up the phone and held a conversation in French [mass noun]: the two men were deep in conversation

The source of this change is not difficult to guess. Earlier this month, Andrea Hill, chief executive of the council, wrote to employees (on libraries):

Our consultation document – intended to be honest and early publication of a future scenario for libraries – has been interpreted as a definitive proposal to close 29 libraries. With hindsight I don’t think we should have called it ‘consultation’: it is rather information to stimulate a ‘creative conversation’.

It seems that we are first being consulted and then told we have only had a conversation.

Kathy Pollard, the Lib Dem leader has blogged on the substance of the consultation results.

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