Photo of people protesting in the US

So, who gets your vote?

Doublespeak, a term derived from the concepts of ‘doublethink’ and ‘Newspeak’ in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is language

‘that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. …that makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable. …that avoids or shifts responsibility, …that is at variance with its real or purported meaning. …that conceals or even prevents thought’  (William Lutz)

Put another way, it’s how individuals and institutions speak when giving us incomplete or incorrect information so that we form the opinion they want us to.

If you thought this was a relatively recent phenomenon, then think again. As far back as 1972, the National Council of Teachers of English in the US was so concerned by the amount of misleading language politicians and advertisers were peddling that it set up a Committee on Public Doublespeak to monitor it. Two years later, it introduced the Doublespeak Award. Its purpose was to honour what academic Doris Minin-White describes as ‘outrageous examples of misleading language in public discourse’ (my use of ‘honour’, being a minor example😁).

Thus, today’s

  • Donald Trump (winner in 2020, 2019, 2016—for, among other things, ‘perpetuating language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing and self-centred’), and his appalling acolytes:
  • Rudy Giuliani (2018—‘truth isn’t truth’) and
  • Kellyanne Conway (2017—‘alternative facts’)

…are yesterday’s

  • George W. Bush (2008, 2006, 2004, 2003—when talking about the Iraq War, climate change and Hurricane Katrina)
  • The tobacco industry (2000—for ‘abusing language in pursuit of their right to sell a deadly drug’), and
  • The National Rifle Association (1999—for the ‘artful twisting of language to blur issues, the invocation of patriotism, reverence, love of freedom, and the opposing use of dread words to colour the opposition’)

(With those last two bullet points I’ve just created my own ‘smoking gun’ 😅).


Why does it matter?

For democracy to work properly, electorates must be well-informed. At best, that requires information-givers to be clear and honest with voters; at the very least, it requires voters to recognise when information-givers are being unclear and dishonest.



George Orwell (1948). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Secker & Warburg, UK. 

William Lutz (1989). Doublespeak. Ig Publishing, New York.

Doris Minin-White (2017) Political Speech, Doublespeak, And Critical-Thinking Skills in American Education. Hamline University. Minnesota.


Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash