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(Source: Disinfopedia, The Encyclopedia of Propaganda)

Doublespeak is language deliberately constructed to disguise its actual meaning, usually coined by 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four. 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."

Wile doublethink can be defined as the ability to hold at least two contradictory ideas in the mind without experiencing cognitive dissonance, doublespeak is the ability to speak or write two or more contradictory ideas without the speaker or writer being consciously aware of the contradiction. Doublespeak may be, and problably is, consciously used to deceive. In other words, doublespeak is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. In 1984 when BIG BROTHER and the Party say PEACE they mean WAR, when they say LOVE they mean HATE, and when they say FREEDOM they mean SLAVERY. So too, in 2001, do our versions of BIG BROTHER and the Party abound with contradictions and deliberate reversals of fact.

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.


  • coalition of the willing: coalition of the coerced
  • shock and awe: massive bombing
  • axis of evil: countries to be attacked; Bush administration hitlist
  • 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: bystander casualties
  • neutralize: kill
  • freedom fighter: armed political rebel (positive term)
  • terrorist: armed political rebel (negative term).
    Note however, that in scholarly contexts, "terrorist" is usually defined in a way consistent with the biases of the politics of the region where the scholastic institution is located.
  • wet work: assassination
  • pre-hostility: peace
  • 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.
    nformation 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, rightsize, RIF (reduction in force): 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.
  • vertically deployed anti-personnel devices: bombs
  • pro-growth tax policies: tax cuts for the wealthy
  • decapitation strike: turn of phrase recently used to describe the bombing of structures where military or political leaders are assumed to be.

The humourous (?) side of doublespeak:

Some excerpts from the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak:

A reader reports that when the patient died, the attending doctor recorded the following on the patient's chart:  "Patient failed to fulfill his wellness potential."

Another doctor reports that in a recent issue of the *American Journal of Family Practice* fleas were called "hematophagous arthropod vectors."

The letter from the Air Force colonel in charge of safety said that rocket boosters weighing more than 300,000 pounds "have an explosive force upon surface impact that is sufficient to exceed the accepted overpressure threshhold of physiological damage for exposed personnel."  In other words, if a 300,000-pound booster rocket falls on someone, he or she is not likely to survive.

At McClellan Air Force base in Sacramento, California, civilian mechanics were placed on "non-duty, non-pay status."  That is, they were fired.

A personal ad from an unidentified mewspaper announces that a "formerly single man" seeks a single or married woman.

After taking the trip of a lifetime, our reader sent his twelve rolls of film to Kodak for developing (or "processing," as Kodak likes to call it) only to receive the following notice:  "We must report that during the handling of your twelve 35mm Kodachrome slide orders, the films were involved in an unusual laboratory experience."  The use of the passive is a particularly nice touch, don't you think?  Nobody did anything to the films; they just had a bad experience.  Of course our reader can always go back to Tibet and take his pictures all over again, using the twelve replacement rolls Kodak so generously sent him.

The description on the package of Stouffer's Veal Tortellini with Tomato Sauce says it contains "exquisite egg pasta."  The list of ingredients, however, includes "cooked noodle product."

In St. Louis there is an oriental rug store that advertizes "semi-antique" rugs.

The Minnesota Board of Education voted to consider requiring all students to do some "volunteer work" as a prerequisite to high school graduation.

Senator Orrin Hatch said that "capital punishment is our society's recognition of the sanctity of human life."

According to the tax bill signed by President Reagan on December 22, 1987, Don Tyson and his sister-in-law Barbara run a "family farm."  Their "farm" has 25,000 employees and grosses $1.7 billion a year.  But as a "family farm" they get tax breaks that save them $135 million a year.

Scott L. Pickard, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, calls them "ground-mounted confirmatory route markers."  You probably call them road signs, but then you don't work in a government agency.

It's not "elderly" or "senior citizens" anymore.  Now it's "chronologically experienced citizens."

According to the FAA, the propeller blade didn't break off, it was just a case of "uncontained blade liberation."


For more examples of doublespeak and the language of war, see:

For more examples of doublespeak and the language of the new economy, see:

On the web:




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