Today is the birthday of linguist William D. Lutz, who was born in Wisconsin in 1940. Lutz has dedicated his life to combating doublespeak, language that is ambiguous or intentionally obscure or distorted.
In his 1989 book Doublespeak, Lutz defines four categories of doublespeak, to illustrate how it is “designed to alter our perception of reality and corrupt our thinking.”
The first kind is
The second kind of doublespeak is jargon,
The third kind of doublespeak is gobbledygook or bureaucratese, “piling on words, or overwhelming the audience with words, the bigger the words and the longer the sentences the better.” One example of this comes from Jesse Moore, a NASA official, who said the following when he was asked to assess the shuttle program after the Challenger disaster in1986:
I think our performance in terms of the liftoff performance and in terms of the orbital performance, we knew more about the envelope we were operating under, and we have been pretty accurately staying in that. And so I would say the performance has not by designdrastically improved. I think we have been able to characterize theperformance more as a function of our launch experience as opposed to itimproving as a function of time. (1)
The fourth kind of doublespeak is inflated language, using words “to make the ordinary seem extraordinary; to make everyday things seem impressive . . . .” Inflated language is especially prevalent in the language of advertising. At Starbucks, for example, you can’t buy a small, medium, or large coffee; instead, to make these common categories sound more impressive they are called tall, grande, venti, and
Today’s Challenge: Add Some Air to Your Ad
How do companies use language to inflateclaims about the value of their products? Sometimes products contain disclaimers, warning consumers about the dangers of using them improperly. More and more, however, companies are writing “claimers,” using inflated language and hyperbole to tout the amazing ways in which their product will transform the
1-Means, Howard. What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate. Orlando Sentinel 2Mar. 1986. articles.orlandosentinel.com/1986-03-02/news/0200290268_1_space-shuttle-launch-experience-shuttle-challenger.
2-Lutz, William. Doublespeak. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1989.