Doublespeak is the complete opposite of plain and simple truth. It distorts words and phrases, often in order to conceal the 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 communicating in a deceptive manner.
What Is Doublespeak?
Doublespeak is communicating in a way that misrepresents or obscures the truth. It combines both sense and nonsense in a deliberate effort on the part of the message sender to conceal the true meaning of what is being said. In some cases, doublespeak is used to soften the impact of what the message sender is describing, but is more often used to camouflage the truth.
Types of Doublespeak
There are different types of doublespeak. Most doublespeak can be classified as euphemism, gobbledygook, inflated language, and jargon. Review a selection of doublespeak examples, organized by type.
Doublespeak Euphemism Examples
Euphemisms are a type of doublespeak that attempts to make certain situations seem more palatable. They are used to soften a blow rather than to hide the truth. They're evasive, but not usually malicious. Calling someone's home "quaint" can be a nice way of saying "small." The speaker is being polite, but not purposefully distorting or evading some major truth. There are many examples of euphemism.
- "alternative facts" instead of "lies" or "misinformation"
- "a bit shaky" instead of "very poor quality"
- "good effort" instead of "that's not right"
- "ill-advised" instead of "a terrible idea"
- "he's not the best driver" instead of "he is a terrible driver"
- "passed on" or "passed away" instead of "died" or "dead"
- "person of interest" instead of a "suspect in a crime"
- "sleeping off a big night out" instead of "passed out drunk"
- "what an interesting flavor" instead of "yuck, that is horrible"
- "truth-challenged" instead of "liar"
- "working on getting caught up" instead of "I'm behind with my work"
Inflated Language Doublespeak Examples
Sometimes referred to as puffery, inflated language uses over-the-top language to make things seem better than they are. A person who uses inflated language might be trying to impress others. Companies often use inflated language in marketing claims. Those who seek to influence public opinions tend to use extreme terminology in a way that's not really accurate.
- "a splendiferous fantabulous vacation getaway" instead of "a great place to vacation"
- "amaze your friends with this incredible item" instead of "you might want to buy this item"
- "best meal ever" instead of "really good food"
- "concerned citizen dares to question authority" instead of "citizen raises a question at City Council meeting"
- "if the price was any cheaper, it'd be free" instead of "it is affordably priced"
- "it was a fantabulous experience" instead of "I had a nice time"
- "new and improved" instead of "package redesign" or "changed an ingredient"
- "once in a lifetime opportunity" instead of "a great opportunity"
- "right-sized serving" instead of "there are few chips in the bag now, for the same price as before"
- "shabby chic" instead of "old and worn"
- "the weight will just melt off" instead of "this weight loss remedy could help you lose weight"
Doublespeak Jargon Examples
Jargon can be described as terminology commonly used in a particular occupation, industry or another group. The terms are known and understood by group insiders but can represent doublespeak when used by others. There are many examples of jargon.
- "collateral damage" instead of "multiple fatalities"
- "detainee" instead of "prisoner of war"
- "enhanced interrogation" instead of "torture"
- "ethnic cleansing" instead of "genocide"
- "extrajudicial killing" instead of "assassination"
- "negative cash flow" instead of "spending more than you make"
- "negative patient outcome" instead of "the patient died"
- "pre-emptive strike" instead of "unprovoked attack"
- "reducing costs" instead of "cutting salaries" or "cutting jobs"
- "tree hugger" instead of "environmental activist"
- "violent extremism" instead of "terrorism"
Doublespeak Gobbledygook Examples
Gobbledygook involves speaking in a convoluted way that is so confusing as to be incomprehensible. It often pairs nonsense with information that would make sense on its own or combines other types of doublespeak with additional confusing or deceptive messages. Gobbledygook tends to include big words — many times used incorrectly — and long sentences that are difficult, if not impossible, to follow or understand.
- "When the party in the first part provides the aforementioned goods to the party in the second part, such party shall acknowledge receipt of said item once the party of the first part hereby warrants its condition as suitable for transfer and in light of exchange of consideration." instead of "I will sell you this item for X dollars."
- "Upon documentation of said patient's symptoms and conducting an examination of her otolaryngological region, the ultimate diagnosis is a case of viral rhinitis." instead of "The patient has a common cold."
- "The executive team is seeking to capitalize on the synergistic outgrowth of a dynamic brain dump in which there is a free exchange of thought leadership." instead of "You're invited to participate in a brainstorming session with the executive team."
- "The prognosticators seek to peer into the morrow for guidance regarding eventualities." instead of "They're making plans for the future."
- "When reflecting back over the intent of the founders of this long successful entity, it seems the fiscal duty of the officers is to maximize profit for those with a financial stake in the organization, for they are the ones with the most to lose or gain." instead of "We're going to stay focused on maximizing profit."
Doublespeak in Everyday Language
People use and are exposed to doublespeak all the time. There are examples of euphemism in literature, so students are exposed to it in their English classes. Workplace jargon is commonplace in just about every place of business. Newscasts incessantly use examples of political jargon, while interviewees often speak in gobbledygook. Information reported in the news or shared via social media often uses the inflated language of yellow journalism.
Purposes of Doublespeak
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 generally something to be avoided. Let's take a look at some of the root causes.
To Be Politically Correct
Take that whole "violent extremism" tactic for example. 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. An isolated case of violent extremism is hardly the same as organized terrorism intended to instill high levels of fear and cause multiple deaths.
To Hide Negativity
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? 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 just 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" is a misrepresentation of the truth.
To Make Money
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". As indicated by the company's 2020 settlement with the United States Department of Justice for more than $8 billion, plus other penalties, this claim was far from true.
To Perpetuate Lies
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 the term meant. More often than not, "reducing costs" turns into layoffs, pay cuts and a loss of benefits. If that employer had just spoken with the truth, his employees might have been able to better prepare for sudden losses.
Think Before you Doublespeak
If you ever find yourself on the precipice of doublespeak, stop! Are you sure you want to use murky, 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. Instead, learn how to properly use rhetoric as a tool to motivate and persuade others.