Word of the Day


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relating to a political system in which the government controls every aspect of people’s lives

Origin and usage

The adjective Orwellian was first used in 1950, the year of the author’s death. While George Orwell (whose real name was Eric Blair) wrote a huge range of fiction and non-fiction, the work for which he is best remembered and which gave rise to the eponymous adjective Orwellian is his final novel, the dystopian ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.


Like another 20th century writer whose name became an indicator of fear and confusion, Franz Kafka, George Orwell portrayed a world in which individuals are helpless in the face of overwhelming powers. The adjective Orwellian is used to describe situations and systems in which the government, like the totalitarian state depicted by Orwell, controls every aspect of people’s lives, including the meaning of language itself. The term is used, often by journalists, to highlight alleged examples of abuse of power through the manipulation of language. In this context it collocates with nouns like doublespeak, newspeak, doublethink and euphemism. It also often occurs with words like dystopia and nightmare.  While the words doublethink and Newspeak were coined by Orwell and used in the novel, doublespeak is a later coinage first used 7 years after the author’s death.


“A paradox of George Orwell’s legacy is that the term Orwellian has come to mean a cynical manipulation of language.”

Related words

Dickensian, Kafkaesque, Shakespearean

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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