The World of Doublespeak: A Review & Analysis

If there was ever a more deceitful and disgusting use of language to communicate with others, it has to be doublespeak. According to William Lutz in his essay “The World of Doublespeak“, doublespeak is “a blanket term for language which pretends to communicate but doesn’t, language which makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant attractive, or at least tolerable.” The sole intention of doublespeak is to “mislead, distort, deceive, inflate, circumvent [and] obfuscate.” In this analysis and review of Lutz’s essay, we will be taking a look at examples of doublespeak and extrapolating the true meaning behind those words. Firstly, here is a video of Lutz during an interview about why people do not trust politicians and why they are not voting.

From reading Lutz’s essay and watching this interview, it is very clear that the main source of doublespeak usage in the world comes from the political sector.

An example of doublespeak in the courtroom.
An example of doublespeak in the courtroom.

Whether it comes from senators, lawyers, government-funded organizations or even the President himself, the purpose of this doublespeak is to help them either cover their behinds when they screw up and get backlash for it or to cleverly veil the true intentions of the user from the audience until it is too late to realize what they were up to.

While it is a dishonest and revolting practice, there are a few applications of doublespeak that are actually helpful for people’s well beings and help tend to the fragile human psyche. Take a look at the phrase “gone to a better place” for example. This is a phrase most commonly used in association with someone’s death, a subject that a lot of people can’t normally handle that well. Letting a person know that someone has died using this phrase or other phrases like “passed away” or “no longer with us” help ease them into the subject and be able to come to terms with the death at a leisurely pace that won’t potentially have negative impacts on them in the immediate future. Using words in this manner is defined by Lutz as a “euphemism.” Only once a euphemism is used to “mislead or deceive, however, [does it become] doublespeak.”


Using inflated language to reduce the severity of a situation.
Using inflated language to reduce the severity of a situation.

Another form of doublespeak discussed in the essay is inflated language, where you use a complex forming of phrases to speak about a simple subject or object. An example is like saying “locale for the criminally unstable” when you could just as easily say insane asylum, or describing somebody as being of a “diminished stature” when you mean to call them short. Inflated language is normally used to make someone seem more intelligent than they actually are or to make something seem like more than it actually is. This can also apply when talking about a job position: such examples include “canine relocation specialist” for dog catcher or “sandwich artists” for someone who works at a deli or sandwich shop.

Lutz spoke of jargon, “the specialized language of a trade or profession,” as a separate form of doublespeak, but in my opinion it is a more specialized version of inflated language.  While it is normally only spoken by those in specialized fields that use terms that the layman wouldn’t be privy to, jargon can still technically be simplified down to words that anyone could understand. The only reason for jargon is to confuse the public and give a level of exclusivity to the profession that keeps others from knowing what goes on in that field.

The last form of doublespeak that Lutz mentions is gobbledygook, which is doublespeak that does not make sense. Like the word itself, gobbledygook is confusing and distracts from actual rhetoric. Let’s take a look at an example I grabbed from a Nipissing University article: “Exclusive dedication to necessitous chores without interlude of hedonist diversion renders John an unresponsive fellow.” This odd sentence is a gobbledygook perversion of the classic saying, “All work and no play makes John a dull boy.”

Doublespeak is a messy language form that seems to normally cater to the benefit of corrupt individuals. It can have some positive uses but those are far and few between the muck you have to wade through to find them. Let’s ponder over some of the following questions:

  1. What are your experiences with doublespeak? Were they positive or negative?
  2. This essay was written in the 90s. Would you say that doublespeak is still just as prevalent in the present day?
  3. Is mastering doublespeak a part of becoming an excellent rhetorician?

5 comments on “The World of Doublespeak: A Review & Analysis

  1. 1. I think more experiences I’ve had with double speak tend to be negative than positive. My mother is infamous for taking something I say and twisting it when interpreting what I’m saying or telling a family member about something I said. I’ll be sitting there right next to her thinking, “Oh my gosh that is not what I said at all.”

    2. Yes, I would say double speak is prevalent today. You see double speak happen a lot generally in the media when news reporter take different scenes from a recording or interview and give it a different connotation than the denotation or even connotation that the person originally intended.

    3. Yes and no. Yes because you should be able to understand the various meanings behind a concept or context of a situation but on the other hand, no because if it’s being used for negative influences then that’s bad for displaying ethos.

  2. 1. My experiences with doublespeak have been both good and bad. Based on firsthand experience, it is definitely easier to refer to someone passing as “gone to a better place.” Even though it makes the situation seem better, it doesn’t do it in a deceptive way. Besides politicians, there are people that I have encountered or have seen on TV that participate in doublespeak consistently. As stated in the definition, they use language that “pretends to communicate but doesn’t.” I think it is bad enough when regular people do it because it is disturbing and you have to wonder what reality they are living in, let alone people when people in positions of power like politicians use it.
    2. I think that doublespeak is probably just as prevalent today as it was in the 90s because as people use the internet to learn more about current events, and since things can now go viral, there is probably more of a need for people like politicians to be versed in “effective” doublespeak.
    3. I don’t think that mastering doublespeak is necessary to become an excellent rhetorician, but I do think that mastering the ability to recognize doublespeak is a necessity.

  3. My experience with double-speak has been mostly positive brushes, and a few negative ones, with inflated language in the course of classwork and creative writing.

    I think some of the most negative instances that I have seen border on gobbldygook, when less-skilled creative writers use awkward sentence structure and archaic words to make themselves sound more experienced. Of course, your readers will either end up confused and offended by your inflated language, or they will laugh their asses off at your clumsy attempts to make yourself sound like a more experienced writer.

    But inflated language has its place in literature and creative writing. Readers with a wide vocabulary and the capacity to work through inflated language are generally better critical readers. It is easier to read academic papers and classical Shakespeare or James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans” if you have experience with inflated language. Used in creative writing, inflated language can be used with discernment and a good sense of the casual voice to transform mundane experiences into poetic imagery.

    I also feel that inflated language has allowed us as a society to develop terminology and phrasing that is more politically correct. And this can be a very positive, ethical move for writers to use inflated phrasing that is more respectful and considerate of our fellow human beings.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking review. You made a lot of good points, and I think that your questions were very interactive!

  4. I think I’ve had both “positive” and “negative” experiences with doublespeak, yet I don’t view doublespeak as a positive thing. At its core, it’s a form of deception and in extent, lying that just grates on me. I use the terms positive and negative in this answer very lightly meaning the “positive” experiences were ones that were used to make something seem simpler or less dark. They would have been much like your example about saying “gone to a better place” rather than simply saying, has died.

    I think doublespeak has been around for just as long as the study of rhetoric, and most likely, longer. Calling it doublespeak is the only new thing about it. So, yes, I think it is definitely still prevalent in present society. You can see it any time you turn on a news report or listen to any political figure speak.

    I’m going to chose to employ the use of an Albert Einstein quote to explain my answer to this:
    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it.”
    I think it is important to understand as many aspects about a topic as possible in order to excel within that topic, but I do not think that means you need to execute everything you know. Basically, master doublespeak to the extent that you can tell when it is being used against you, but not to deceive your listeners personally.

  5. This guy ought to look in a mirror before accusing others of cynicism. “All politicians lie, all politicians use doublespeak.” It may be serve for some as a tool to manipulative and deceive, but I find it hard to believe that there are no ethical uses for the practice.

    Take one of your examples for instance. Using the phrase “person of diminished stature” to refer to someone with dwarfism isn’t a sign of someone trying to sound smart to me. If anything, they’re tiptoeing (perhaps unnecessarily) around what might be a sensitive subject for some people and using a more acceptable, if inflated alternative. I could think of loads of other examples like this where someone could be misconstrued as using lofty words, when in reality they’re just trying to use the most appropriate language.

    I agree with what Caitlin said above as well. Inflated language has way more uses in literature and writing than Lutz suggests. People with a larger vocabulary tend to enjoy literature that utilizes more inventive writing. It’s far easier to fully immerse yourself in what you’re reading if the author seems to be capable of advanced wordplay. Just because some politicians have learned how to mislead their audience through doublespeak doesn’t mean that it’s an entirely horrible practice. If anything, it’s all the more important to learn and understand it so you can more effectively recognize when someone is trying to skirt around a topic.

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