Doublespeak

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Doublespeak is language deliberately constructed to disguise its actual meaning, usually from governmental, military, or corporate institutions.

The word doublespeak was coined in the early 1950s. It is often incorrectly attributed to George Orwell and his dystopian novel 1984. The word actually never appears in that novel; Orwell did, however, coin Newspeak, Oldspeak and doublethink, and his novel made fashionable composite nouns with speak as the second element, which were previously unknown in English. It was therefore just a matter of time before someone came up with doublespeak. Doublespeak may be considered, in Orwell's lexicography, as the B vocabulary of Newspeak, words "deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them."

Successfully introduced doublespeak, over time, becomes part of the general language, shaping the context in which it is used. See below for discussion of classified and unclassified.

In addition, doublespeak may be in the form of bald euphemisms ("downsizing" for "firing of many emplyees") or deliberately meaningless phrases ("wet work" for "assassination").

The process of abbreviating names or forming acronyms to form new words, which arose during the World War and Cold War governments and corporate institutions, is now pervasive (eg Microsoft from "Microcomputer Software" and Wikipedia from "Wiki Encyclopedia").

Whereas in the early days of the practice it was considered wrong to construct words to disguise meaning, this is now an accepted and established practice. There is a thriving industry in constructing words without explicit meaning but with particular connotations for new products or companies. For example, in 1978 Esso (itself a neologism from the acronym for "Standard Oil") changed to Exxon, a name chosen in large part for its graphic properties. See also jargon, neologism.

What distinguishes doublespeak from other euphemisms is its deliberate usage by govermental, military, or corporate institutions.

Some examples of doublespeak, with etymologies:

abbreviations which disguise the meaning of the origin words, namely
    • Nationalsozialismus (National Socialism)
    • Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police)
    • Communist International
    • International Press Correspondence
    • Agitatsiya Propaganda (Agitational Propaganda)
  • defense: war
As in Department of Defense, formed by the merging of the Department of War and Department of the Navy.
  • intelligence: spies or secrets
  • human intelligence: spies
  • asset (CIA term): foreign spy
  • collateral damage: casualties
  • neutralize: kill
  • freedom fighter: armed political rebel (positive term)
  • terrorist: armed political rebel (negative term)
  • homeland defense:police state
  • wet work: assassination
  • pre-hostility: peace
  • unsavory character: criminal
  • classified: secret
In World War II, secret information was distinguished into classes corresponding to increasing levels of security clearances (more doublespeak there), and came to be called classified information (as in "classified for a particular clearance").
  • unclassified: not secret
Information which wasn't secret was then called unclassified, which carries the implication that the natural state of information is to be classified, in other words, to be made secret.
  • downsize: fire employees
  • job flexibility: lack of job security (where job security means an actual or implied promise of continued employment)
  • taxpayer: citizen
The word taxpayer means someone who pays taxes, and when used in a discussion of government revenues is not doublespeak. However, using the term interchangeably with citizen - the military is there to protect the taxpayers - implies that the primary role of a citizen is to pay taxes, or more generally, that the social contract (again, a term with a particular bias) between citizen and state is primarily economic. This usage has become popular in certain conservative and libertarian groups in the United States: c.f. Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Taxpayers Union.

See also propaganda, euphemism, neologism, Newspeak, political correctness, Noam Chomsky.

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