Orwellian vs Huxleyian

Orwell and Huxley wrote contrasting dystopian books. In Orwell’s 1984, people are controlled by overt totalitarian power. In Huxley’s Brave New World, people are lulled into submission.

Orwellian became a common adjective:

But Huxleyian didn’t:

Neither did Huxleyan:

Orwellian gets about 55 times as many hits as Huxleyian and 104 times as many hits as Huxleyan.

Google’s Ngram viewer gives similar results. Apparently we are concerned about overt power, but we don’t care about a world in which people don’t care.

19 thoughts on “Orwellian vs Huxleyian

  1. I’d propose two scenarios;
    1. To prevent Orwellian futures you have an external target to focus your defenses. To prevent Huxelyian futures you have to focus the responsibility to yourself.
    2. the uncommon adjective is uncommon not because people don’t care, but perhaps because that is how people are; lulled into submission already.

  2. 1. “Huxleyan” is harder to say than “Orwellian”.

    2. Orwell’s hypothetical future is more strikingly awful than Huxley’s — more brutal, more obviously unhappy, etc. (If I am going to end up brainwashed into submission regardless, I suppose I’d rather be happily than unhappily brainwashed.)

    3. Maybe Orwell was just a more popular and/or more effective writer. (So far as I know I don’t have any good statistics on this, but Amazon’s sales info suggests that 1984 sells better than BNW.)

    4. The emergence of terms like these is historically contingent. Discrepancies like this will happen just due to chance.

  3. Some of this may have to do with the suffix -ian? Adding its initial high front vowel to a word ending in a high front vowel seems like it would be dispreferred.

    I get twice as many hits on Google for ‘huxleyesque’ versus ‘huxleyian’. Indeed, searching the Corpus of Contemporary American English for *yesque reveals a number of hits with other proper nouns ending in -y [i] (e.g. Disney, Kennedy, Hillary). There’s even one hit for “Huxleyesque”: “Indeed, the only way to avoid Huxleyesque social stratification may be for the government to get into the eugenics business.” (from TIME in 1999)

    There is also one hit for “Chomskyesque”, though, which reminds me that my field makes rather robust use of the “-yan” version of your original search whenever we discuss “Chomskyan linguistics”.

  4. I was surprised that “Huxleyian” had more hits than “Huxleyan.” The latter is easier to say. I suppose the former is more common due to its similarity to Orwellian.

  5. I didn’t think ‘Brave New World’ was about a dystopia. The reason is that the people in the story didn’t care. The fact that they didn’t care meant that there wasn’t a problem, meaning that the situation wasn’t dystopic. I welcome argument to the contrary, but I genuinely think that the term ‘dystopia’ doesn’t apply to the society in Huxley’s book.

  6. It’s a fallacy to argue that non-existence of a word implies ignorance of the concept it describes. Knowing the word ‘schadenfreude’ neither helps nor hinders you in gloating at another’s misery. I’m not disputing your conclusion, necessarily, rather the evidence you offer for it.

  7. I’ll admit that Google hits is a poor and somewhat strange metric. But it’s a little more objective than saying “I have heard people say Orwellian but not Huxleyan.” And I agree that people can have concepts they have no word for, but we tend to discover or invent words for concepts we think about enough.

    Maybe there’s another word associated with the concept of “Huxleyan.”

  8. Tobi,

    It’s pretty clear from Huxley’s comments (particularly in BNW Revisited) that he considered the book a cautionary tale.

  9. Personally, I think Fahrenheit 451 is the best depiction of a dystopian future where people just don’t care about what is happening. Bradburyian is quite easy to pronounce and gets 34,400 hits on google.

  10. Mark, I have not read Revisited, that is reason enough for me to change my opinion, the author knows his own work best.

  11. Tobi: You must not be a deconstructionist. Those folks think the author’s option couldn’t matter less. :)

  12. Pierluigi Vernetto

    Interesting. maybe simply because 95% of the world population has an IQ lower than average (pun intended) and see an Huxleyan world as very appealing…. in fact TV and the car are 2 very popular forms of drugs.

  13. Apparently there are two Richards in this thread! In case my earlier comment was misunderstood, I actually think Google hits are a reasonably good basis on which to decide whether something is an oft-used word, and contrary to the other Richard, I find Google n-grams frustrating as the results are opaque.

  14. > Maybe there’s another word associated with the concept of “Huxleyan.”

    Perhaps you’re looking for the word “sheeple”. It conveys the idea that people will tend to blindly conform to whatever the rest of the masses do and care about. This is especially true where concerned with general governance.

  15. @Waqas: Just don’t ask them to wake up: http://xkcd.com/1013/

    Also, per my earlier post, I’m pretty sure “Huxleyesque” is the word with the most currency that would mean something parallel to “Orwellian” but with reference to Huxley rather than Orwell.

  16. A few days late to this, but I use Huxleyan references now and then: “Increase the dose of soma” etc.

Comments are closed.