Restoring the Roar of Huxley
Words and their Meanings by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) does not fit easily into any category. Of course, many consider him an elder statesman of Dystopia as the author of Brave New World. While dystopian tales go centuries back, Brave New World is part of a modern triumvirate of dystopian writers that includes George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We). Of course there are many others. But the particular concerns that Huxley explored in Brave New World carried over into his other work. Huxley was a poet, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and a public intellectual. Given to non-academic pursuits like parapsychology, Ramakrishna, and psychedelic drugs, Huxley is perhaps best remembered for his futuristic concerns.
One concern, shared with Orwell (a pupil of Huxley’s), was the use and meaning of words. Orwell railed against euphemisms in the English language, especially when used by politicians and those in power to mask their destructive deeds. Huxley shared a similar concern, which is, in short, words matter. This seems to run counter to a political culture that loves to redefine events and programs and arguments in language that is at once dead and full of malignant life. It runs counter to a popular culture that tweets before it thinks and issues apologies almost as fast. There are consequences in the words we use, and as Huxley notes, there is an ethical dimension in our choice of language that, if ignored, leads to barbarism.
Huxley also belonged to another famous trio. He died on the same day as C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy.
“Words and the meanings of words are not matters merely for the academic amusement of linguists and logicians, or for the aesthetic delight of poets; they are matters of the profoundest ethical significance to every human being.”