Last month my brother Steve and I went to see famed actor, comedian and magician Harry Anderson perform at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. You’ll remember Anderson from his American television sitcoms: an eight-year stint as jocular Judge Stone on Night Court or as con artist “Harry the Hat” on Cheers. A talented talker of doublespeak, Anderson’s performance prompted me to warn you of how silver-tongued speakers can scam you into buying something that seems to be a good deal but is truly bogus. The best defense against this trickery is to expose their secret language.
What is doublespeak?
Doublespeak is the name for language which makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, and the unpleasant attractive. It deliberately deceives, disguises, distorts, camouflages, misleads, inflates, circumvents, and obfuscates. Confused? A few examples will clear things up.
Politicians, publicists and the press are the kings and queens at spinning stories:
- Airplanes don’t crash, they have “uncontrolled contact with the ground.”
- You’re not unconscious during surgery, you’re just in a “non-decision-making state.”
- Hospitals don’t have people that die, they have “negative patient care outcomes.”
Job seekers write creative career titles on resumes:
- Janitors are “Custodial Engineers.”
- Car mechanics are “Automotive Internists.”
- Elevator operators are “members of the Vertical Transportation Corps.”
Defrauders escape through legal loopholes by emphasizing the first and last key words:
- They buy and sell “solid fools gold.”
- They use the best “genuine faux leather.”
- They only import “real counterfeit diamonds.”
None of these people are lying to your face: they are telling you the truth with verbose verbiage to communicate a specific message.
Defend yourself from doublespeak by learning to listen to all the words that tumble and mumble out of mouths. Be mindful and study the incoming message instead of just mentally “sitting back” and believing all you hear.
Your turn: What doublespeak terms have you heard?