Doublespeak is the complete opposite of plain and simple truth. It distorts words and phrases in order to bury a truth. For example, if a pharmaceutical company said something like, "There are some minor side effects," when they should clearly be stating, "This drug may cause a heart attack," they're using doublespeak and acting in a deceptive manner.
Have you ever heard someone say “She's passed on" instead of "She's dead"? Is that doublespeak? Not necessarily. It's not hiding the truth that this person died. It's merely trying to "dress it up" more politely. In this instance, you could lean more toward euphemism than doublespeak. Euphemisms attempt to make certain situations seem more palatable, whereas doublespeak deliberately muddies the water.
Is it doublespeak or a euphemism to call someone a "person of interest" instead of a "suspect in a crime"? That's a tough call. You might want to err on the side of euphemism because, while it's evasive, it's not malicious. It's, in a way, trying to soften a blow, not hide a truth.
Whenever you're attempting to soften a blow, you're more likely in the realm of euphemisms than doublespeak. Calling someone's home "quaint" is a nice way of saying "small". But, you're not purposefully distorting or evading some major truth, which is when doublespeak enters the picture.
Here are some examples of commonly used phrases that might be regarded as doublespeak.
Do you see how each instance of doublespeak hides a certain truth? It's not merely softening a blow or smoothing out rough edges, it's distorting the truth, alluding to some other false reality, which begs the question, "Why do people do this?"
The purposes of doublespeak are varied. Since this is a human tactic, it's going to be complex and multi-faceted. That said, it's something to be avoided. Let's take a look at some of the root causes.
Take that whole "violent extremism" tactic. The Federalist published a piece on this term, citing it as doublespeak that is blinding us to reality. There lies the central theme behind doublespeak. It blinds the recipient to the truth, to reality. A violent case of extremism is hardly the same as terrorism intended to instill high levels of fear and cause multiple deaths.
When someone uses the term "gently used", what are the odds they're being honest about that? Does the product only have mild wear and tear, or is it on its last legs? This is a great example of the dangerous tango between euphemisms and doublespeak.
If you're buying a second-hand Louis Vuitton jacket and the retailer says it's gently used because the prior owner only wore it once to the opening of her art gallery, then it's a euphemism. It's not concealing a truth and it's a nicer way of saying, "not brand new".
However, if we're talking about a used car that's prone to overheating, stalling, faulty wiring, and a bad engine, "gently used" has now become doublespeak and something to be avoided at all costs.
As much as politicians are guilty of doublespeak, so are advertisers. In fact, the makers of OxyContin once used enough doublespeak to land themselves in very hot water. When they first launched their marketing campaign, they stated that opioid addiction concerns were "overblown" and their new opiate-based medication was "much safer than other alternatives". If "much safer" means over 200,000 Americans will die, then something is very, very wrong.
When a company COO says he's "reducing costs", you might think, "Darnit. I guess we're not going to see freshly made coffee in the kitchen anymore." However, it's not likely that's what he meant. More often than not, "reducing costs" turns into layoffs, pay cuts, and a loss of benefits. If that employer had just spoken with truth, his employees might have been able to better-prepare for sudden losses.
If you ever find yourself on the precipice of doublespeak, stop! Are you sure you want to use murky, deliberately evasive tones that the recipient may not appreciate? It's one thing to use a euphemism or two to soften a blow or sound more polite. "I have to use the restroom" isn't misinforming anyone or hiding a mistruth. It's simply rounding out rough edges.
However, trying to sell someone a "gently used" hunk of junk is doublespeak in its prime. Whenever you're faced with a situation where you feel like doublespeak is an option, there's likely a greater issue at hand that needs to be addressed. Perhaps it would be better to embrace the cold, hard truth.
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