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I read George Orwell’s 1984 sometime during “Junior High”, which in the 1970s was what we now call “middle school”. My district, Adair County R-III, had grades 7, 8 and 9 in their own building.

The school library had a copy of 1984. I was busy reading a lot my 7th and 8th grade years, so I read it.

I don’t think I’ve got anything new to say about the story. 1984 is well written, you can easily visualize Winston Smith’s travails, his work environment, and feel his general discontent, although to a 7th grader some of that is pretty foreign. Luckily, I’ve re-read it several times over the years.

What affected me the most, both at the moment, and over the years, is the appendix about Newspeak, the restricting English variant that The Party promoted.

Orwell’s explanation of Newspeak is succint and powerful. Not long after reading it, I ordered a small coke at McDonald’s. The counter person corrected me, “regular coke”. This is precisely the kind of manipulation of language that The Party engaged in, that was Winston Smith’s job. I might not have noticed, had I not read the Newspeak piece. To this day, Starbuck’s venti coffee irritates my ear.

In the mid-90s, I read To Be or Not, a book full of essays advocating the use of an English variant E Prime that does not use any form of the “to be” verb. I spent several years, to at least 2001, working at eliminating my own use of “to be”. I still believe that the use of “to be” causes a lot of confusion, and leads writers and speakers of English to make unclear associations between actor and action, and state of existence. I no longer work hard at dogmatically not using “to be”, but I do take care to not perform false equivalence (“you acted silly” versus “you are silly”), to ensure that actions in a scenario get done by specific actors, and that states of existence get specified (“here, variable named index has type “unsigned int”).

Just the other day, I was offered a choice of “medium” or “large” when I ordered some combo meal at McDonald’s. The fries came in the same size paper packet as “small” fries did when I first read 1984. McDonald’s is still trying to manipulate English. Shame on them.