A Lie is a Lie
And A Pig Never Flies
It took the mainstream media forever before they started labeling trump’s lies as lies and not as misstatements, inaccurate claims, baseless insinuations, falsehoods or as the trump administration would have their lies explained as, “alternate facts.” Words are powerful so why were the wordsmiths and guardians of the fifth estate so reluctant to call a spade a spade? Simply put, it was cowardice and concerns over losing readers and advertisers. Well it was absurd and downright condescending for the media to use these spoon fed euphemisms in the belief that most Americans didn’t see trump’s comments for what they were, lies.
Now, the Philadelphia Inquirer has taken the bold step of refusing to label Republican efforts to investigate the 2020 election as an “audit” or as some GOP purveyors of disinformation would call it a “forensic investigation.” And that is because it is not an “audit” or a “forensic investigation” but is just part of a continuing and baseless farcical campaign to show that trump was robbed of reelection through fraudulent votes, something that has been thoroughly rejected as the allegations have been investigated up, down and sideways and found to be nothing but hot air. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media is still writing about the Republican “audit” so I guess journalistic courage is still a rare commodity.
Trump took wordspeak to another level but the idea is nothing new, as so vividly portrayed in George Orwell’s prescient 1949 novel, “1984” or going back a few centuries when Juliet argued with Romeo in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” or to put it another way, you can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig and it will still never fly.
Trump did it more often but others have been even more effective and insidious. How about that government buzzword of the post Sept. 11 world, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which sounded not like what it was, waterboarding and torture, but more like they forced prisoners to answer a series of questions on a multiple choice test and I can’t imagine a victim screaming out “help I’m a victim of enhanced interrogation techniques.” “Detainees” is another friendly word that sounds like a student who put gum in his classmate’s hair has been detained by the principal, rather than the reality of prisoners being held and tortured at the infamous U.S. prison near Abu Ghraib in Iraq. “Collateral damage” is still one of my favorites and it sounds like a few cars were involved in an minor fender bender when it really means a village and its children and women and other innocents were destroyed by a bomb that was targeting a group of terrorists. The villagers were indeed damaged, beyond repair.
And there were those pesky “unknown unknowables” that the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used rather than just saying what he meant in English because “unkknown unknowables” is just a jumble of words that mean nothing. Just like President George W. Bush coined the phrase “clear skies” to explain his plan to neuter the nation’s environmental laws and actually dirty the skies.
Words are used to deflect as in the trump administration’s effort to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic with words like “Chinese Virus, China Virus, the Chinese Flu, Kung Flu, and Wuhan Flu.” And phrases are coined to make one side seem morally superior, like those who say they are “pro-life” while labeling others as “abortion advocates.” “Ethnic cleansing” was the euphemism made popular during the Bosnian War or in the destruction of ethnic African communities in the western Darfur region of the Sudan. The only ethnically cleansing was from the barrel of a gun and not in the shower. And then there are the Pentagon terms that emerged during the Persian Gulf War, like “soft targets” referring to people, and “hard targets,” for buildings.
It’s not just politicians who choose words to mask their true intentions. There’s the airline steward who talks of “slight turbulence” while the jet is bouncing around like a rubber ball and your stomach is demanding that it leave your body or the doctor who tells you the injection will be “a little pinch” as he plunges the five-foot long needle in your arm, causing you to practically lose conscience from the searing pain.
My mother was guilty of using words to avoid what she really meant, as when she referred to a young woman as “attractive” which actually meant that she was somewhat appearance challenged or when we’d shop for clothes in the husky section when I was a boy, and everyone knew that husky was a lame way to describe fat or should I say weight challenged.
Words have always been used by politicians and leaders and others to muddy the waters, twist and distort, confuse rather than educate and masquerade truths to make their evils palatable. To highlight those who can’t say what they mean, the National Council of Teachers of English offers its Doublespeak Award is an “ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.”
The U.S. Department of Defense won the award three times in 1991, 1993, and 2001 and in 1991 it swept the first six places in the Doublespeak top ten for using euphemisms like “servicing the target” (bombing) and “force packages” (warplanes). Other winners were highlighted for such misleading phrases as “difficult exercise in labor relations,” meaning a strike, and “meaningful downturn in aggregate output,” or in other words, “recession.”
The National Council of Teachers of English Committee on Public Doublespeak was formed in 1971, in the midst of the Watergate scandal. The 2020 recipient was the phrase “China Virus” and those who use it as they are a perfect example of “language designed not to lead but mislead” and that seeks to “distort reality,” according to the committee.
“In scapegoating China, the American government alleviates itself of responsibility. Worse, this language is racist and hateful and has fueled anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments across the U.S.,” the committee noted.
If there is any doubt about the extent of doublespeak, check out no less than 16 references on Google, including Aesopian language, alternative facts, business speak, cant (language), catachresis, Code words, cognitive dissonance, dog-whistle politics, double bind, double entendre, double-talk, euphemism, obfuscation, obscurantism and polite fiction.
And if that’s still not clear, talk to your classroom managers or learning facilitators who work to offer their instructional delivery skills to enhance the learning process and learning environment or just talk to a teacher.