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The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone's Saying Anymore, by William Lutz (HarperCollins, 1996)


Language intended to distort or obscure its actual meaning.

Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms, unsupported generalizations, or deliberate ambiguity. Contrast with plain English.

William Lutz has defined doublespeak as "language which pretends to communicate but doesn't." (See Examples and Observations, below.)

See also:


A neologism based on the compounds Newspeak and Doublethink in George Orwell's novel 1984 (1949)

Examples and Observations:

  • "Doublespeak is not a term invented by George Orwell, but we surely nod to him for its origin, since he did invent 'doublethink' and 'newspeak' for his political novel 1984"
    (Paul Wasserman and Don Hausrath, Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak. Capital Books, 2006)

  • "Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
    (George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946)

  • "Doublespeak is language which pretends to communicate but doesn't. It is language which makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unpleasant seem unattractive, or at least tolerable. It is language which avoids, shifts or denies responsibility; language which is at variance with its real or purported meaning. It is language which conceals or prevents thought.

    "Doublespeak is all around us. We are asked to check our packages at the desk 'for our convenience' when it's not for our convenience at all but for someone else's convenience. We see advertisements for 'preowned,' 'experienced' or 'previously distinguished' cars, not used cars and for 'genuine imitation leather,' 'virgin vinyl' or 'real counterfeit diamonds.'"
    (William Lutz, "Doubts About Doublespeak." State Government News, July 1993)

  • "With doublespeak, banks don't have 'bad loans' or 'bad debts'; they have 'nonperforming assets' or 'nonperforming credits' which are 'rolled over' or 'rescheduled.'"
    (William Lutz, The New Doublespeak. HarperCollins, 1996)

  • "I reminded [the soldiers] and their families that the war in Iraq is really about peace."
    (President George W. Bush, April 2003)

  • "Tact is kind; diplomacy is useful; euphemism is harmless and sometimes entertaining. By contrast, doublespeak is dishonest and dangerous."
    (Julian Burnside, Word Watching. Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004)

  • Fashionable Doublespeak
    "[Umbro designer David] Blanch has employed an impressive amount of doublespeak to talk up the technological wizardry of his design. The shirts boast 'intelligent ventilation points,' which look very much like arm holes to you and me. It incorporates 'tailored shoulder darts specifically designed to accommodate the biodynamics of the shoulder.' It's hard to tell from the official pictures, but this ever-so-clever touch appears to be a seam."
    (Helen Pidd, "New All-White England Kit." The Guardian, March 29, 2009)

  • President Harry Truman's Secretary of Semantics
    "I have appointed a Secretary of Semantics--a most important post. He is to furnish me with forty to fifty dollar words. Tell me how to say yes and no in the same sentence without a contradiction. He is to tell me the combination of words that will put me against inflation in San Francisco and for it in New York. He is to show me how to keep silent--and say everything. You can very well see how he can save me an immense amount of worry."
    (President Harry S Truman, December 1947. Quoted by Paul Dickson in Words From the White House. Walker & Company, 2013)

  • Resisting Doublespeak
    "What can the average receiver do about doublespeak and related scams, swindles, and deceptions, and what should the average persuader/advertiser/blogger and so on do to avoid engaging in it? The Doublespeak home page recommends asking the following questions about any piece of persuasion being received or planned:
    1. Who is speaking to whom?

    2. Under what conditions?

    3. Under what circumstances?

    4. With what intent?

    5. With what results?
    If you cannot answer all these questions with ease, or if you feel uncomfortable with the answers, or if you cannot determine any answer to them, you are probably dealing with doublespeak. You had better be prepared to delve deeper, or if you are sending the message, you'd better think about cleaning it up a bit."
    (Charles U. Larson, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility, 12th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)
Pronunciation: DUB-bel SPEK
Also Known As: double talk
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