Mooresville Public Library

Mooresville Public Library
MPL Courtyard

Saturday, June 26, 2010

MPL Book Trailer #53: The New Doublespeak, by William Lutz

Our recent book trailer (embedded below) features The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone's Saying Anymore, by William Lutz.

Politicians' "spin doctors," whom we called "party handlers" (or worse) in my day, are masterful at doublespeak. So are advertising copywriters, used car salespersons, and lawyers. Having done two out of the four occupations (I'll let you guess which), I can say with some assurance that doublespeak is designed to obfuscate and misdirect. Lutz has spent a professional lifetime studying language use, and he carefully and clearly presents his thesis that doublespeak is deceptive, self-contradictory, misleading, and evasive. When the marshals of misinformation wish to distort facts, doublespeak muddies the waters of perception so that the average person (that's me and people we know) is subtly manipulated through the skillful use of intrinsically meaningless jargon to believe what the information communicators wish to convey. This is usually an emotionally-neutralized message, so that bad news doesn't sound so bad. For example, have you ever been "downsized," or has your job become an "optimized human resource allocation"? That seems less brutal than the truth, which is you lost your job and income security. What about war? Doesn't it sound cleaner and neater to say that the enemy were "decommissioned aggressor quantum" than dead soldiers? How can "smart bombs" accidentally kill civilians when they're so much more artificially intelligent than old-fashioned bombs? Pollution sounds positively pleasant when it becomes "regulated organic nutrients" instead of raw sewage. The list is extensive, and in another of Lutz's books, he provides a Thesaurus of doublespeak for easy reference.

One of the first doublespeak terms I heard in a business context was referring to "used cars," a phrase that had served the secondary automobile sales market for decades, as "preowned vehicles." "Used," after all, suggests that the quality has been exhausted from the goods; "preowned," on the other hand, implies that a previous owner acted as caretaker of the property someone else has purchased.

If you don't think doublespeak can powerfully influence attitudes, consider an experiment. Try reading to a small group of people the ordinary, straightforward meaning of a word or phrase and then use the doublespeak terminology. Ask your listeners to gauge their emotional response to each set. This has, of course, been done for years in psychology experiments across college campuses everywhere, and the results are fairly impressive.

But don't take my word for it. Read Lutz's book and see if doublespeak provides a preexisting cognitive perspective modification. If you find your attitude changing about this topic, then you will know what I mean.

Bill Buckley
MPL Indiana Room Librarian

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