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Words that think for us: Take some dictation

Totalitarian-style language is creeping westwards

By Edward Skidelsky   November 2010

Totalitarian states are, without exception, bores. They express themselves at great length and with extreme monotony of diction. The Russian dissident Andrei Sinyavsky spoke of “the sacred language of the Soviet state… cleansed of everything but stock phrases and strictly established forms.”  Such uniformity had, of course, a political purpose. Words in Soviet Russia did not so much describe as replace reality. Things that could not be expressed in the correct formulae did not exist.

But it was Maoist China that set the record for linguistic standardisation. “One single incorrect formulation, and the whole nation will decline,” wrote Mao. Choice…

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