The 1999 Doublespeak Awards

Article excerpt

SOURCE: NATIONAL COUNCIL OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH

BILL CLINTON wins unwanted fame for his language skills at misleading the public by fudging, fibbing, and dodging. Bill Clinton, said to be deeply concerned with his legacy, has joined his presidential predecessors in bequeathing a handsome collection of euphemisms, evasions, and inoperative statements to the annals of doublespeak.

Although inspired by George Orwell (who said political language is "designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable"), "doublespeak" was coined by Prof. William Lutz of Rutgers University to describe "the sewage that passes for communication these days."

The Clinton legacy includes, of course, his own foray into psycholinguistics: "It depends upon what the meaning of 'is' means. If 'is' means 'is' and never has been, that is one thing. If it means 'there is none,' that was a completely true statement."

As a content provider (writer), Lutz has compiled three books filled with what he calls "linguistic fraud and deception." The latest is Doublespeak Defined (Harper Resource, 1999). He has noted in the past that President Ronald Reagan, whose generals called the invasion of Grenada a "predawn vertical insertion," named the MX missile the "Peacemaker," and let his minions refer to taxes as "revenue enhancement." Lutz remembers that Jimmy Carter, describing the aborted raid to free U.S. hostages in Iran, called it an "incomplete success."

But the latest entries belong to Clinton, who is, in his own right, as much a master of doublespeak as Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson.

Some Clinton illustrations:

LIE -- "false impression." As in, "I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression."

SPEND -- "investment." As in, "an immediate package of jobs investments of over $30 billion."

SEX -- "inappropriate relationship."

EROGENOUS ZONES -- "enumerated areas." As in, "Contact ... with enumerated areas, if the contact is done with an intent to arouse or gratify."

ALONE -- not alone. As in, "There were a lot of times when we were alone, but I never really thought we were. …