Weekend Reader: ‘Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary Of Deliberately Deceptive Language’
Spinglish is everywhere. It is the first language of press secretaries, PR reps, politicians, doctors breaking bad news, and much, much more. Anyone who has ever been “dehired,” or the victim of some “reality augmentation” (i.e. lying) knows how insidious Spinglish can be.
To negotiate the verbal minefield of misdirection, euphemism, and flat-out falsehoods, Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf have assembled the essential concordance of the language of spin — Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language.
You can read an excerpt below. The book is available for purchase here.
Do you speak Spinglish? Well, if you speak English, chances are you’ve been using Spinglish for a long time, most likely without even knowing it. For example, have you ever overslept and missed a meeting and blamed your absence on a “scheduling error”? Tried to weasel out of a parking ticket because of an alleged “meter malfunction”? Explained that a bounced check was merely the result of an “unanticipated negative cash-balance accounting issue”?
Or, when you noticed that your hospital had billed you for a “disposable mucus recovery system,” did you figure out they were charging you fifteen bucks for a box of Kleenex? Are you aware that whenever companies say “for your convenience,” they actually mean “for our convenience”?
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you’re already on the road to mastering the devious vocabulary of verbal distortion, and with our indispensable bilingual dictionary as your guide, odds are you’ll soon be earning your B.S. in B.S.—or, better still, a coveted Spin Doctorate. And even if you’re a rank beginner, don’t despair: Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deceptive Language is virtually guaranteed to teach you how to succeed in business, politics—and everything else—without really lying!
But what precisely is Spinglish? Well, in spite of its polyglot-sounding name, it isn’t some foreign language. It’s just our native tongue, transformed into a sophisticated method of judicious miscommunication through the use of careful word choice and the artful rephrasing and reframing of familiar terms. To put it another way (which, of course, is what Spinglish is designed to do), it all comes down to making me sound better, or you sound worse, or both. I’m a freedom fighter, you’re a terrorist. I want to enhance revenues, you want to raise taxes. My product is artisanal, all-natural, and organic; yours is mass-produced, synthetic, and contains artificial additives.
Needless to say, any language can be used to convey or conceal all sorts of meanings and messages, but English is unique in its capacity for creative misdirection, thanks to a couple of remarkable linguistic resources. First, with over a million words, it has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, and with more than a billion speakers, it is the most widely spoken.
And second, English basically consists of two completely separate and complementary sub-languages: Latin, from the Romans who conquered England and bequeathed us mostly polysyllabic (and often nicely evasive) formulations like “exterminate” and “circumlocution,” and the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic, and Germanic vernaculars of our barbarian ancestors on the wrong end of the catapult who gave us short, simple, cut-to-the-chase words like “kill” and “bullsh*t.”
Of course, using language to control a narrative is nothing new. Long before George Orwell wrote 1984, our nation coined Orwellian terms like “Manifest Destiny” to rationalize a transcontinental land grab, “Indian reservations” to refer to concentration camps for Native Americans, and “Benevolent Assimilation” to describe the violent seizure of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, to name just a few.
It’s also important to distinguish between slang and jargon, which are spontaneously generated, and loaded language and weasel words, which are premeditated. Saying that a bunch of people who were fired were “given the boot” or that someone who died “kicked the bucket” is just colorful; describing mass layoffs with euphemisms like “downsizing” or “rightsizing,” or a death due to malpractice as a “negative patient care outcome,” is deliberately deceptive.
The fact is, not only has Spinglish been around for a long time, it’s everywhere: on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, inside the Beltway, in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, in the fields of Law, Medicine, the Arts—you name it, and if you can name it, someone can rename it to make it sound a whole lot better and promote it with a flurry of press releases flogged by a host of professional Spinocchios and hundreds of highly paid liars with fireproof pants ready to pull the genuine imitation faux wool over your eyes.
But now, thanks to this shoot-from-the-lip glossary of time-tested, tried-and-untrue terminology, you, too, can have just the right self-serving phrase at the tip of your forked tongue, and no matter how embarrassing the situation or awkward the silence, you’ll never be at a loss for misleading words again!
So apply some Sock-Puppet News-Job nose-growth-control cream, shown to be of significant value in limiting topical, prevarication-related nasal lengthening (your results may vary), put on that pair of Poppy-Khaki brand combustion-resistant trousers (certified 100% effective when worn with approved carbon-fiber undergarments), and issue a statement, run an ad, or just offer a simple explanation that tells it like it isn’t, it wasn’t, and it couldn’t ever have been.
A sampling of Spinglish-English definitions
death panels. Government tribunals, which former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claimed were mandated by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, that would decide whether sick and elderly individuals were entitled to continued health care services. “The America I know and love,” Palin wrote on her Facebook page in 2009, “is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” One problem with Palin’s assertion, which fanned a firestorm of opposition to Obama’s proposed legislation, is that it was utterly false: There was, and is, no provision in the Affordable Care Act which suggests the formation of such panels. Indeed, Palin’s statement earned her PolitiFact’s coveted Lie of the Year award.
elites. People defined by former Reagan administration official and Fox News commentator Linda Chavez as “learned souls” who “maybe should spend less time at Starbucks sipping double lattes over the Sunday Times and more time at church or the local high-school football game or in line at a Walmart. They might actually learn something about the values that drive most Americans.” Such uses of the word “elites,” comments linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, transfer suspicion “from the genuinely powerful to the people who used to be regarded merely as their clerks and factotums, and in the process suppresses real disparities of wealth and power. There are only the people who shop at Walmart and people who don’t, with the people who own the operation presumably away for the weekend.” (See also: diversity; “tax-hiking, government expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.”)
“four years of unfortunate misunderstandings between the two nations.” A phrase used by the Japanese government, in a 2002 advertisement heralding friendship between the United States and Japan, to describe the period between 1941 and 1945.
great and good friend. The classic journalistic euphemism for “mistress,” coined by Time magazine to describe the relationship between Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst.
human rights abuses. A gentler way of saying torture and murder.
repression. Stability maintenance
tax and spend. Journalist Norman Solomon defines these as “the inevitable fiscal activities of any government, made to sound diabolical.”
From Spinglish by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf. Published by arrangement with Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.
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