Doublespeak is language deliberately constructed to disguise or distort its actual meaning, often resulting in a "communication bypass". Such language is associated with governmental, military, and corporate institutions. Doublespeak may be in the form of bald euphemisms ("downsizing" for "firing of many employees") or deliberately ambiguous phrases ("wet work" for "assassination"). Doublespeak is distinguished from other euphemisms through its deliberate usage 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."
Successfully introduced doublespeak, over time, becomes part of the general language, shaping the context in which it is used. See below for discussion of classified and unclassified. The process of abbreviating names or forming new words with acronyms or portmanteaus, which arose during the World War and Cold War governments and corporate institutions, is now pervasive (for example: Wikipedia from "Wiki Encyclopedia"). The term has also come to be used by extension in the term doublespeak argument, which means a debate where one or more sides puts forth purposely false reasoning for its point of view to disguise its true intentions.
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. For example, in 1972 Esso (itself a neologism from the acronym for "Standard Oil") changed to Exxon, a name chosen after the company invested $100 million checking that Exxon does not translate to anything in over 54 languages spanning 154 international markets. The company's first choice, "Enco", was rejected as it translated to "stalled engine" in Japanese. Exxon is still called "Esso" in Europe, Canada and Brazil. Similarly, the Windscale nuclear processing facility in Britain was renamed Sellafield when it was privatised, in the hope that the public wouldn't associate the new owners with the Windscale fire, the UK's worst nuclear disaster.
Examples of doublespeak in current usage
The list of euphemisms contains some examples of doublespeak in current English usage, with etymologies and examples of clearer, simpler words which are being avoided.
- Lutz, William . (1987). Doublespeak: From "Revenue Enhancement" to "Terminal Living": How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You. New York: Harper & Row .