Reflecting on the language of some of the greats  

I am a Language student and always have been. I shunned the concept of studying Literature, mainly because I didn’t feel I’d be able to enjoy some of the books on the syllabus, and I hate having to read something I’m not into. I thought I wouldn’t be able to understand the language of writers from the past, or that trying to get even the gist alone would be too much effort. 

I can honestly say that I was mistaken.  

Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, was an incredible read. One of my favourite messages is – “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had”. I later devoured ‘The Call of the Wild’ by Jack London and am now onto ‘White Fang’. London, like Fitzgerald, writes in such an accessible way that I sped through it. Even though it was written over 100 years ago, it was such a pleasure to read. It also wasn’t filled with complicated words that feel like they’re intended to trip you up.

This idea is summed up by George Orwell in his essay on ‘Politics and The English Language’; “Bad writers…are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.” (1945: 7). I often felt like some writers would use Latin words just to appear more intelligent. In my experience this can sometimes create distance between the writer and the reader.  

I think this quote from Orwell is a clear example of this issue. “An interesting illustration…is the way in which the English flower names…are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis etc…it is probably due to an instinctive turning-away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.” (1945: 7).  

I may not have studied Literature formally, but I am definitely experiencing the wonders of past works now.  


The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925 

The Call of the Wild Jack London 1903 

White Fang Jack London 1906

Politics and The English Language George Orwell 1945 


Written by Rebecca Hatfield on 24th Jan 2018


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