Big Brother and Other Terms from "1984"

When was the last time you used the term “Big Brother” or “Thought Police?” Did you know that both phrases come directly from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984? Orwell’s dark cautionary tale published in 1949 about the dangers of totalitarianism, government surveillance, and censorship left a profound mark on the English language, as Orwell introduced readers to new words and phrases to help him describe the anti-utopia of Oceania where the story is centered. Many of these terms are still commonly used today.

To prepare for Aquila Theatre’s upcoming production of George Orwell’s 1984 on Saturday, November 23 at 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts, we’ve compiled a short vocabulary cheat sheet to jog your "memory hole" from high school literature.

Big Brother: the personification of the unseen monolithic leader of the Party of Oceania.

Doublethink: the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. According to Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984, doublethink 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.” Four examples of doublethink used throughout 1984 include the slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and 2 + 2 = 5.

Memory hole: a small chute leading to a large incinerator. Anything that needed to be wiped from the public record (embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts) would be sent into the memory hole. As a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith often has to throw things into the memory hole to revise history and keep current with the ever-evolving Party dogma.

Newspeak: a purposefully ambiguous and confusing language with restricted grammar and limited vocabulary used in Oceania, according or Orwell, “to diminish the range of thought.” For example, in newspeak, the term plusgood had replaced words better and great.

Thinkpol: a newspeak word to describe the secret police of Oceania, who are responsible for the detection, prosecution, and elimination of unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the Party. They use audio-visual surveillance via the telescreens and offender profiling to monitor the populace.

Unperson: someone whose existence has been excised from the public and private memory in Oceania.

Aquila Theatre: George Orwell’s 1984 
Saturday, November 23 at 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts
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