DoubleSpeak, How to Lie without Lying
In the Winter of 1847, George Donner, the
co-leader of the California-bound group of
American settlers engaged in intraspecies
protein reallocation in order to maintain
However, his failure to fulfill caloric obligations
in a timely manner rendered him unviable.
This video, is about “DoubleSpeak” – what
William Lutz, author of the book titled DoubleSpeak,
defines as “Doublespeak is language designed
to evade responsibility, make the unpleasant
appear pleasant, the unattractive appear attractive,
basically its language designed to mislead
while pretending not to.”
“What line of work are you in?”
“Waste management consultant.”
Let’s say for example the person whose treacherous
mountain climb my energy bar company sponsored
cannibalized his climbing partner, it would
be better for me to say something that technically
communicates this information, but doesn’t
sound as terrible.
Lutz says there are at least four kinds of
“Protein reallocation” instead of “cannibalism”
and Tony Soprano’s creative phrase to replace
“Mobster” would probably fall under the
Fourth Kind of doublespeak which is inflated
language that is designed to make the simple
seem complex or to give an air of importance
to people, things, or situations.
“I don’t know if that tape is working, you
ate three desserts tonight!”
“Forbearance is the watchword; that triumvirate
of Twinkies merely overwhelmed my resolve!”
The concept of Doublespeak stems from George
Orwell’s 1984 – in the book, “Doublethink”
is a key concept.
To know and not to know, to be conscious of
complete truthfulness while telling carefully
Doublespeak though, is rarely about deliberately
For example, In January 2015, Sid Miller became
Agriculture Commissioner of the state with
the 5th fattest high schoolers in the country
So, that same year, along with announcing
a plan to combat obesity, he announced updates
to the School Nutrition policy in Texas which
included rolling back a ban on the use of
deep fryers and allowing the sale of “low-calorie
beverages” in Texas schools.
By low-calorie beverages he means …sodas.
I guess a soda is technically lower calorie
than say a “meal” …but I doubt coca
cola is what you’re expecting if you ask
for a “low calorie beverage” at a restaurant.
“Why do you have so many bowling balls?”
I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge.
So, doublespeak becomes useful obviously when
you are obligated to communicate something,
but are unable to straight up lie, yet communicating
the truth bluntly or as clear as possible
doesn’t have the listener perceive the information
in the way you would like.
For example, when being asked about your current
position during a job interview, you might
think it would sound better to say “I’m
currently economically inactive due to being
offered an early retirement opportunity as
a result of my previous employer’s human
resource redundancy elimination initiative”
instead of “I’m unemployed because the
company was firing people and I got fired.”
Edward Sapir, in his essay “The Status of
Linguistics as a Science,” says “Language
is a guide to social reality …Human beings
do not live in the objective world alone,
…, but are very much at the mercy of the
particular language which has become the medium
of expression for their society.”
A lot of times, we don’t want information
communicated to us objectively and unembellished.
Euphemisms, like “passed away” instead
of “died” or “big boned” for “fat”
are words or phrases that are usually used
to avoid a distasteful reality.
William Lutz says this is the 1st type of
“You see, I don’t like euphemisms.
I don’t like language that reflects fear and
conceals the truth.”
“Americans can’t really handle the truth,
so they invent soft language to protect themselves,
and it gets worse with every generation.”
“Sometime during my lifetime, toilet paper
became bathroom tissue, …, used cars became
previously owned transportation and constipation
became occasional irregularity.”
“Poor people used to live in slums, now
the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard
housing in the inner cities.
… They don’t have a negative cash flow
position, they’re broke!”
Calling an economic recession a “period
of accelerated negative growth” can be annoying,
but certain forms of doublespeak are just
In Chapter 2 under the section “The Doublespeak
of Graphs,” Lutz gives a dated, but clear
visual example of doublespeak.
“Now here’s another chart… their tax
cut, so called, is the dotted line.
Ours is the solid line.
As you can see, our tax cut keeps on going
down and then stays down permanently.
This red space between the two lines is the
tax money that will remain in your pockets
if our bill passes.”
Lutz points out that there are no numbers
on this chart, which means you have no perspective
to evaluate it with.
When you make the dollar scale from $0 to
$2500 rather than the awkward $2150 to $2400,
it appears much less impressive.
This kind of graphical doublespeak also appears
elsewhere, used by the pharmaceutical industry
for the heart protecting cholesterol lowering
wonder drug – statins.
“So here’s the ad in which you see that Lipitor
reduced coronary events and risk for heart
disease by 36%.
So this was a really important study, the
one that ultimately drove Lipitor to generate
over a 100 billion dollars in revenue.
So I’m gonna show you the actual data from
And it’s right here.
But here are the actual data from the study.
And somewhere in here is a 36% risk reduction
when you compare placebo with Atorvastatin,
So if you look at survival, you see they’re
basically identical, no difference in mortality
You see that tiny sliver of a difference between
the red and blue bars?
That is a 36% reduction.
This is the wonder drug effect.
This is the effect that propelled Lipitor
to generate over 100 billion dollars in revenue.
How can that be a 36% reduction in risk?
When you calculate it and you look at the
data, the actual difference is 1.1%
This is where you do some statistical hijinx.
You take that 1.1% difference between the
groups, then you add the difference between
placebo and 100…
If you’re not following me, it doesn’t matter
because this is silly.
So you take the 1.1, divide it by 3, what
do you get?
You get 36.
And that’s why they say there is a 36 percent
And so, if you have truth in advertising,
I think the 1% should actually be in the ad.
Lipitor! reduces heart attack by 1%.
“Now I’m also taking Lipitor.”
By the way, if you’re health conscious and
want to limit your sugars, you might like
to know that there are 56 different names
Don’t like the way just “sugar” sounds?
How about “organic evaporated cane juice,”
a completely natural sweetener ?
This kind of “rebranding” of words to
make people react differently is all over
“Frank Luntz doesn’t do issues, he does
Language around issues.
He figures out what words will best sell an
In Frank Luntz’s book “Words that work,”
he explains the importance of using the right
word or phrase to evoke the right response
from the listener.
He says “It’s not what you say, it’s
what they hear.”
“Focus on those words that cause people to
change their minds, change their behavior,
even change their attitudes.”
For example, the “gambling” industry became
the “gaming” industry and completely changed
its perception despite nothing about the industry
As Luntz says in the book:
“Gambling” looks like what an old man
with a crumpled racing form does at the track…
or feels like the services provided by some
seedy back-alley bookie in some smoke-filled
“Gaming” is what families do together
at the Hollywood-themed MGM Grand, New York,
New York, or one of the other “family-friendly
resorts” in Las Vegas.
“Gambling” is a vice.
“Gaming” is a choice.
He begins his work with something similar
to a focus group.
He talks to members of the target market and
runs words or phrases by them to see what
they like and dislike.
“You’re gonna use these to register whether
you agree or disagree, whether you believe
The dials go from 0 to 100.”
One of his most significant political works
has been getting the public to finally be
against the estate tax by removing that particular
phrase from the political lexicon and replacing
it with the more emotional, more personal
In his book originally published in January
2007, Lutz says A clear but somewhat narrow
majority of Americans today support eliminating
the so-called “estate tax,”… but more
than 70 percent would abolish the “death
“It’s the same tax, but nobody really knows
what an estate is.
But they certainly know what it means to be
taxed when you die.”
“I’d like someone to get rid of the death
tax – that’s what Iwant.
I don’t wanna get taxed just because I died.
One food rebranding effort was so successful
that by 2002, the National Environmental Trust
started a campaign to save a previously ignored
fish species from being eaten into extinction.
In 1977 fish wholesaler Lee Lantz took “patagonian
toothfish” and renamed it “Chilean sea
bass (I believe)” because he knew no one
would have toothfish for dinner.
So, when people come to associate certain
ideas with certain words, it’s useful to
come up with new words that evoke a more pleasant
For example, a hospital may think that you
wouldn’t react to well to hearing that a
catastrophic blunder killed your wife and
child during a Cesarean delivery.
So, it’s better to describe the anaesthesiologist
having turned the wrong knob and giving the
mother a fatal dose of nitrous oxide as a
At least, St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis
in 1982 thought this wording would be better.
“Three weeks ago in Los Angeles, the surgeons
killed a patient.
In a series of incidents that the pathologist
called ‘incredible stupidity and incompetence,’
it included slitting the patient’s throat
during surgery – this was called a therapeutic
William Lutz says the second kind of doublespeak
is jargon – the specialized language of a
trade or profession.
It is useful and necessary to know jargon
to communicate within your field, but whether
it is doublespeak depends on where you use
For example describing your computer keyboard
key to your friend as a
Catastrophically Buckling Compression Column
Switch and Actuator
is unnecessary, but is an appropriate descriptor
to use in a patent.
After giving President Reagan a routine physical
examination, Dr. Daniel Ruge said that “previously
documented decrement in auditory acuity and
visual refractive error corrected with contact
lenses were evaluated and found to be stable.”
That sounds a lot more impressive than saying
the president’s hearing and eyesight haven’t
changed since his last exam.
“Where is the organoleptically detectable
And finally, William Lutz says the 3rd type
of doublespeak is gobbledygook or bureaucratese.
Basically, such doublespeak is a matter of
piling on words, of overwhelming the audience
There are plenty of examples of politicians
using bureaucratese when forced to comment
on something they don’t want to comment
on, but a good example is NASA’s ex-associate
administrator Jesse Moore’s performance
in terms of the lexicon he was operating under.
After the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster,
Jesse Moore was asked if the performance of
the shuttle program had improved with each
launch, he answered,
“I think our performance in terms of the liftoff
performance and in terms of the orbital performance,
we knew more about the envelope we were operating
under, and we have been pretty accurately
staying in that.
And so I would say the performance has not
by design drastically improved.
I think we have been able to characterize
the performance more as a function of our
launch experience as opposed to it improving
as a function of time.”
Pretty much everyone will at some point will
dress up facts in some kind of way, even in
our day to day lives.
People use doublespeak because …from a young
age we learn that consequences exist.
“So tell me, Did you eat the chocolate cake?”
Just because someone is using doublespeak
doesn’t make them a crook, but when you
don’t quite understand what’s being said
about something important to you, it’s good
to ask “what exactly is this person saying?”
For example you might be looking into investing
and come across words like “subprime mortgage”
or “collateralized debt obligation” – it
would be good to clarify for yourself specifically
what that means.
“So banks started filling these bonds with
riskier and riskier mortgages.
By the way, these risky mortgages are called
subprime, so whenever you hear subprime, think
“So mortgage bonds are dogsheet.
CDO’s are dogsheet wrapped in catsheet?”
“Yea that’s right.”
And something I’ve been wondering lately
– what does detox mean?
It seems there’s hundreds of products promising
to “detox” your body, but what exactly
is being detoxed?
Cadmium or Mercury?
Reactive Oxygen Species?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know which toxins
are being detoxified by which product so I
could make sure to drink this when I’m taking
way too much aspirin or take this for my excessive
use of BHT containing cosmetics.
Maybe this “detox tea” product could help
me detoxify metals or PCBs or something like
that, but I wouldn’t know because all I
could find about the ingredients is that they
“are time proven to help your body with
the detoxifying process.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”