( CNN) A year before the end of the Second World War, George Orwell wrote an essay inspired by an American ballot, which asked for a serviceable description of “fascism.”

The rebuttals, he observed, wandered from “pure democracy” to “pure diabolism.” And to this admittedly baggy semantic category, Orwell lent the examples of beings utilizing it fatuously to the Boy Scouts, the London Metropolitan Police, the Catholic Church and the British Labour Party, until he eventually concluded that “as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.”

The man who wrote “Politics and the English Language” had taken a bullet in the throat from a Francoist solider in Spain and so it was especially shrewd of him to see, in 1944, that a pointed political term had been worn down into a cliche encompassing everything from a nasty child on the playground to an agent of the Gestapo. His advice was to use it “with certain forms of circumspection and not, as is usually done, cheapen it to the level of a swearword.”

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