It’s the birthday of British linguist, translator, and editor C.K. Ogden (books by this author), born in Fleetwood, England (1889). He founded The Cambridge Magazine as an undergraduate, and co-founded the Heretics Society, an organization dedicated to questioning authority and religious dogma; both the magazine and the society went on to become much bigger than a college kid’s pastimes. The Magazine, which Ogden continued to edit for more than a decade, published writers like George Bernard Shaw, John Masefield, and Thomas Hardy, and the Society sponsored a forum that hosted speakers like Virginia Woolf and G.K. Chesterton.
Ogden also began translating books from French and German into English, work that took on increasing importance for him through the First World War.
After co-writing The Meaning of Meaning, a work that examined the influence of language on thought, the remainder of Ogden’s career was focused on the creation and advocacy of “Basic English.” Also known as Simple English, Basic is a simplified version of English that Ogden believed could become a universal language; there was a vocabulary of 850 words, only 18 of which were verbs or, as Ogden called them, “operators.” Basic English was the solution to the problem of miscommunication and misunderstanding, Ogden believed, and could achieve world peace. Although it gained some popularity after H.G. Wells and George Orwell both wrote in its favor, Orwell changed his mind about it, and used it in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four as the model for “Newspeak,” the state-sanctioned language that has no words to express original thought.