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Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ter ...
of words. Doublespeak may take the form of
euphemism A euphemism () is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that is deemed Profanity, offensive or suggests something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the us ...
s (e.g., "downsizing" for
layoff A layoff or downsizing is the temporary suspension or permanent termination of employment of an employee or, more commonly, a group of employees (collective layoff) for business reasons, such as personnel management or downsizing (reducing the ...
s and "servicing the target" for
bombing A bomb is an explosive weapon that uses the Exothermic process, exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy. Detonations inflict damage principally through ground- and atmosphere-tr ...
), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional
ambiguity Ambiguity is a type of meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * ...
in language or to actual inversions of meaning. In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language. The word is comparable to
George Orwell Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) known by his pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author and printed ...

George Orwell
's
Newspeak Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, Oceania has a land area of and a popu ...
and
Doublethink Doublethink is a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention to one's own memories or sense of reality. Doublethink is related to, but dif ...
as used in his book ''
Nineteen Eighty-Four ''Nineteen Eighty-Four'' (also stylised as ''1984'') is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell's ninth and final boo ...
'', though the term Doublespeak does not appear there.


Origins and concepts

The term "doublespeak" derives from two concepts in
George Orwell Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) known by his pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author and printed ...

George Orwell
's novel ''
Nineteen Eighty-Four ''Nineteen Eighty-Four'' (also stylised as ''1984'') is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell's ninth and final boo ...
'', "
doublethink Doublethink is a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention to one's own memories or sense of reality. Doublethink is related to, but dif ...
" and "
Newspeak Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a geographic region that includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, Oceania has a land area of and a popu ...
", though the term is not used in the book. Another variant, "doubletalk", also referring to deliberately ambiguous speech, did exist at the time Orwell wrote his book, but the usage of "doublespeak", as well as of "doubletalk", in the sense emphasizing ambiguity clearly postdates the publication of ''Nineteen Eighty-Four''. Parallels have also been drawn between doublespeak and Orwell's classic essay ''
Politics and the English Language "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell that criticised the "ugly and inaccurate" written English of his time and examines the connection between political orthodoxies and the debasement of language. The essay f ...
'', which discusses the distortion of language for political purposes. In it he observes that political language serves to distort and obfuscate reality. Orwell's description of political speech is extremely similar to the contemporary definition of doublespeak: The writer Edward S. Herman cited what he saw as examples of doublespeak and doublethink in modern society. Herman describes in his book ''Beyond Hypocrisy'' the principal characteristics of doublespeak:


Examples


In politics

Edward S. Herman and
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gesture ...

Noam Chomsky
comment in their book '' Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media'' that Orwellian doublespeak is an important component of the manipulation of the English language in American media, through a process called ''dichotomization,'' a component of media propaganda involving "deeply embedded double standards in the reporting of news." For example, the use of state funds by the poor and financially needy is commonly referred to as "
social welfare Welfare (or commonly, social welfare) is a type of government support intended to ensure that members of a society can meet basic human needs Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an idea in psychology Psychology is the science of mind and ...
" or " handouts," which the "coddled" poor "take advantage of." These terms, however, are not as often applied to other beneficiaries of government spending such as military spending. The bellicose language used interchangeably with calls for peace towards
Armenia Armenia (; hy, Հայաստան, translit=Hayastan, ), officially the Republic of Armenia,, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is ...

Armenia
by
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan (, ; az, Azərbaycan ), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan ( az, Azərbaycan Respublikası ), is a country in the Transcaucasia, Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is boun ...

Azerbaijan
i president after the
2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war was an armed conflict between Azerbaijan Azerbaijan (, ; az, Azərbaycan ), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan ( az, Azərbaycan Respublikası ), is a country in the Transcaucasia, Caucasus region of Eu ...

2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War
were described as doublespeak in media.


In advertising

Advertisers can use doublespeak to mask their commercial intent from users, as users' defenses against advertising become more entrenched. Some are attempting to counter this technique with a number of systems offering diverse views and information to highlight the manipulative and dishonest methods that advertisers employ. According to
Jacques Ellul Jacques Ellul (; ; January 6, 1912 – May 19, 1994) was a French people, French philosopher, sociology, sociologist, lay theologian, and professor who was a noted Christian anarchism, Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of ...

Jacques Ellul
, "the aim is not to even modify people’s ideas on a given subject, rather, it is to achieve conformity in the way that people act." He demonstrates this view by offering an example from drug advertising. Use of doublespeak in advertisements resulted in aspirin production rates rising by almost 50 percent from over 23 million pounds in 1960 to over 35 million pounds in 1970.


In comedy

Doublespeak, particularly when exaggerated, can be used as a device in satirical comedy and social commentary to
ironically Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric, a rhetorical device, persuasive device, or stylistic device is a ''technique'' that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a Meaning (linguistics), mean ...

ironically
parody political or bureaucratic establishments' intent on obfuscation or prevarication. The television series ''
Yes Minister ''Yes Minister'' is a British political satire Political satire is satire Satire is a of the , , and s, usually in the form of and less frequently , in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, often ...
'' is notable for its use of this device.
Oscar Wilde Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 185430 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is ...

Oscar Wilde
was an early proponent of this device and a significant influence on Orwell.


Intensify/downplay pattern

This pattern was formulated by Hugh Rank and is a simple tool designed to teach some basic patterns of persuasion used in political propaganda and commercial advertising. The function of the intensify/downplay pattern is not to dictate what should be discussed but to encourage coherent thought and systematic organization. The pattern works in two ways: intensifying and downplaying. All people intensify, and this is done via repetition, association and composition. Downplaying is commonly done via omission, diversion and confusion as they communicate in words, gestures, numbers, et cetera. Individuals can better cope with organized persuasion by recognizing the common ways whereby communication is intensified or downplayed, so as to counter doublespeak.


Doublespeak Award

Doublespeak is often used by politicians for the advancement of their agenda. The Doublespeak Award is an "ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered." It has been issued by the
National Council of Teachers of English The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is a United States professional organization dedicated to "improving the teaching and learning of English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic langu ...
(NCTE) since 1974. The recipients of the Doublespeak Award are usually politicians, national administration or departments. An example of this is the United States Department of Defense, which won the award three times in 1991, 1993, and 2001. For the 1991 award, the United States Department of Defense "swept the first six places in the Doublespeak top ten" for using euphemisms like "servicing the target" (bombing) and "force packages" (warplanes). Among the other phrases in contention were "difficult exercise in labor relations", meaning a strike, and "meaningful downturn in aggregate output", an attempt to avoid saying the word "recession".


NCTE Committee on Public Doublespeak

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Committee on Public Doublespeak was formed in 1971, in the midst of the Watergate scandal. It was at a point when there was widespread skepticism about the degree of truth which characterized relationships between the public and the worlds of politics, the military, and business. NCTE passed two resolutions. One called for the Council to find means to study dishonest and inhumane uses of language and literature by advertisers, to bring offenses to public attention, and to propose classroom techniques for preparing children to cope with commercial propaganda. The other called for the Council to find means to study the relationships between language and public policy and to track, publicize, and combat semantic distortion by public officials, candidates for office, political commentators, and all others whose language is transmitted through the mass media. The two resolutions were accomplished by forming NCTE's Committee on Public Doublespeak, a body which has made significant contributions in describing the need for reform where clarity in communication has been deliberately distorted.


Hugh Rank

Hugh Rank helped form the Doublespeak committee in 1971 and was its first chairman. Under his editorship, the committee produced a book called ''Language and Public Policy'' (1974), with the aim of informing readers of the extensive scope of doublespeak being used to deliberately mislead and deceive the audience. He highlighted the deliberate public misuses of language and provided strategies for countering doublespeak by focusing on educating people in the English language so as to help them identify when doublespeak is being put into play. He was also the founder of the Intensify/Downplay pattern that has been widely used to identify instances of doublespeak being used.


Daniel Dieterich

Daniel Dieterich served as the second chairman of the Doublespeak committee after Hugh Rank in 1975. He served as editor of its second publication, ''Teaching about Doublespeak'' (1976), which carried forward the Committee's charge to inform teachers of ways of teaching students how to recognize and combat language designed to mislead and misinform.


William D. Lutz

William D. Lutz has served as the third chairman of the Doublespeak Committee since 1975. In 1989, both his own book ''Doublespeak'' and, under his editorship, the committee's third book, ''Beyond Nineteen Eighty-Four'', were published. ''Beyond Nineteen Eighty-Four'' consists of 220 pages and eighteen articles contributed by long-time Committee members and others whose bodies of work have contributed to public understanding about language, as well as a bibliography of 103 sources on doublespeak. Lutz was also the former editor of the now defunct ''Quarterly Review of Doublespeak'', which examined the use of vocabulary by public officials to obscure the underlying meaning of what they tell the public. Lutz is one of the main contributors to the committee as well as promoting the term "doublespeak" to a mass audience to inform them of its deceptive qualities. He mentions:


Criticism of NCTE

A. M. Tibbetts is one of the main critics of the NCTE, claiming that "the Committee's very approach to the misuse of language and what it calls 'doublespeak' may in the long run limit its usefulness". According to him, the "Committee's use of Orwell is both confused and confusing". The NCTE's publications resonate with George Orwell's name, and allusions to him abound in statements on doublespeak; for example, the committee quoted Orwell's remark that "language is often used as an instrument of social control" in ''Language and Public Policy''. Tibbetts argues that such a relation between NCTE and Orwell's work is contradictory because "the Committee's attitude towards language is liberal, even radical" while "Orwell's attitude was conservative, even reactionary". He also criticizes the Committee's "continual attack" against linguistic "
purism Purism, referring to the arts, was a movement that took place between 1918 and 1925 that influenced French painting and architecture. Purism was led by Amédée Ozenfant Amédée Ozenfant (15 April 1886 – 4 May 1966) was a French cubi ...
".


Education against doublespeak

Charles Weingartner, one of the founding members of the NCTE committee on Public Doublespeak mentioned: "people do not know enough about the subject (the reality) to recognize that the language being used conceals, distorts, misleads. Teachers of English should teach our students that words are not things, but verbal tokens or signs of things that should finally be carried back to the things that they stand for to be verified."


See also

*
Aesopian language Aesopian language is communications that convey an innocent meaning to outsiders but hold a concealed meaning to informed members of a conspiracy or underground movement. For instance, if Person X is known for exposing secrets in an organization, th ...
*
Alternative facts "Alternative facts" was a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a ''Meet the Press'' interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the attend ...
* Business speak *
Cant (language) A cant is the jargon Jargon is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. Jargon is normally employed in a particular Context (language use), communicative context and may not be well understood outside t ...
*
Catachresis Catachresis (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...
*
Code word (figure of speech) A code word is a word or a phrase designed to convey a predetermined meaning to an audience who know the phrase, while remaining inconspicuous to the uninitiated. For example, a public address system may be used to make an announcement asking for ...
*
Cognitive dissonance In the field of psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an o ...

Cognitive dissonance
*
Dog-whistle politics In politics, a dog whistle is the use of coded or suggestive language in political messaging to garner support from a particular group without provoking opposition. The concept is named for ultrasonic dog whistles used in shepherd A she ...
*
Double bind A double bind is a dilemma in communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entities or Organization, groups through the use of sufficientl ...
*
Double entendre A double entendre (plural double entendres) is a figure of speech or a particular way of wording that is devised to have a double meaning, of which one is typically obvious, whereas the other often conveys a message that would be too socially aw ...
*
Double-talk Double-talk is a form of speech in which inappropriate, invented, or nonsense words are interpolated into normal speech to give the appearance of knowledge, and thus confuse or amuse the audience. Vaudevillian Cliff Nazarro, for instance, would say ...
* Doublespeak Award *
Euphemism A euphemism () is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that is deemed Profanity, offensive or suggests something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the us ...
*
Obfuscation Obfuscation is the obscuring of the intended meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed ...
*
Obscurantism Obscurantism and Obscurationism ( or ) describe the practice of deliberately presenting information in an imprecise, abstruse manner designed to limit further inquiry and understanding. There are two historical and intellectual denotations of ''Ob ...
*
Polite fiction A polite fiction is a social scenario in which all participants are aware of a truth, but pretend to believe in some alternative version of events to avoid conflict or embarrassment. Polite fictions are closely related to euphemism A euphemism () i ...


Notes


References

* * * * * * Lutz, William. (1987). ''Doublespeak: From "Revenue Enhancement" to "Terminal Living": How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You''. New York: Harper & Row * *


External links


Business Doublespeak
A short essay by William Lutz
DoubleSpeak Homepage
by Michele Damron (1998)
National Council of Teachers of English Doublespeak Award
established in 1974 {{Propaganda Euphemisms Propaganda techniques using words Cognitive dissonance Nineteen Eighty-Four