EVERYBODY has had to deal with twice-connotated mechanisms...

Salmagundi

August 06, 1993

EVERYBODY has had to deal with twice-connotated mechanisms and bitransmittal communication. It's what causes elevator operators to become "members of the vertical transportation corps," and grocery store checkout clerks to become "career associate scanning professionals." More commonly it is known as doublespeak -- phrases created to confuse and mislead.

So, what's the big deal if it puffs up ordinary things to make them seem extraordinary? The big deal is that it's deceptive and it has no limits. A few years ago, if you received a memo saying your company was "realigning," you probably would not have known that your job was in jeopardy. Such doublespeak phrases became commonly known, so some companies turned "involuntary termination" into "permanent downsizing" and "right-sizing."

The problem occurs when we think we understand what is happening, but we actually are being deceived. Doublespeak has achieved its goal when our perception of reality is altered, leaving us at the mercy of someone who does not have our best interests at heart.

Governments have been notorious for using it. The U.S. State Department's 1984 annual report on the status of human rights around the world decided to replace the word "killing" with "unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life" because it did not want to appear to be endorsing countries that practiced government-sanctioned killings. (Oops!, make that government-sanctioned unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life).

Hitler used it in Nazi Germany during World War II. Thus, the methodical extermination of European Jews became "the final solution to the Jewish question." Political dissenters, homosexuals and anyone seen talking to a Jew were simply called "anti-socials."

Today, the murder and exploitation of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia is explained by the euphemism "ethnic cleansing."

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