In George Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith lives in “a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens’ rights.” (from Wikipedia) The Ministry of Truth perpetually rewrites information and history, bringing about a truth that is half if not whole fiction. They are the early spindoctors where they put the best spin for the government’s means on news and phrases. From Orwell we get the word “newspeak” and “doublethink” and although he did not use doublespeak it is often attributed to him. From whatever its origins it did come about around the same time as the novel came out and Orwell’s use of combining words caught on.
Doublespeak (or doubletalk), according to Wikipedia, means “to disguise or distort its (language’s) actual meaning, often resulting in a communication bypass.” It’s euphemistically used to make a phrase ambiguous. A T-shirt I once saw said “Eschew Obfuscation.” If you even know these words then it’s funny because eschew pretty much means avoid and obfuscation means confusion. The uncommon use of the words means that the simpler statement of avoid confusion would be better to most people. This is a great example of doublespeak.
Doublespeak thrives today and here are a few examples of how the language has been twisted to put a favorable spin on word, phrases or concepts that we would normally see as negative.
- Downsizing–this used to be called “layoffs.” These days the corporation looks better if they’re just reorganizing their assets and “downsizing” than getting rid of people.
- Improvised explosive device (IED)–this used to be “homemade bomb” but perhaps it put a negative slant on all those people in homes, not to mention that some of these homemade bombs are made in shacks and shops.
- Ecodensity–I love this one. It’s now touted as the best thing for our overcrowded cities. That’s right, “ecodensity” means pack ‘em in like sardines, or “overcrowding.”
- Collateral damage–Yeah. when all those Dessert Storm guys were inaccurately shooting their missiles at everything (and every military farcus since), they called what they weren’t aiming at “collateral damage.” We call it “dead people” or “victims.”
- Racial profiling–it’s now the new way for the US and cohort countries to get away with “racism” when stopping undesirables at the border. I wonder if the KKK uses racial profiling to screen their members. It’s also known as bigotry.
- Domestic engineer–this was an almost ludicrous one that didn’t last long and was supposed to replace housewife. These days, most people say homemakers.
- Person of interest–police forces use this a lot right now. Really, it’s the same thing as saying a “suspect” or a “material witness.”
- Sales advisor–no one wants to be a clerk anymore so they’ll advise you on what to buy. I don’t know about you but in most cases I get no advice, nor want it.
I wonder if anyone is ever fooled by these phrases. Probably some. Oh yeah, ecodensity. We put eco in the word and everyone loves it. When government and politicians use it, it’s time to be suspicious because it’s usually covering up something we wouldn’t like and they have to tell us about but don’t really want us to notice what was going on. Some governments use it all the time.
There are more phrases out there but these are the ones that jump to my mind at the moment. But if we’re still using so much doublespeak, then perhaps we have to look to that