So, what exactly 'is' willietalk?

'The people's business' should include lessons in understanding spinspeak

May 09, 1999|By JAMES BAAR

DELIBERATE pollution of the English language by spin docs, pols, $500-an-hour lawyers and other flimflam artists is destroying rational thought in America. You probably thought you once knew the meaning of formerly straightforward words and phrases, such as "is," "sexual relations," "process" and "customer care." But that is no longer so.

From the White House to the schoolhouse, manipulators of what once was common-sense language are everywhere seeking to obscure the negative and enhance the undesirable. Never before have so many pigs been tarted up with so much lipstick. As a result, logic is sent packing; sensible discourse is crippled; con is king. To fight back, here are some examples of "real meaning" definitions of polluted words and deep euphemisms afflicting the nation:

"Air campaign" -- Pentagon spinspeak for systematic bombing, subsequently embraced and expanded by former doves, as willie-talk for no-casualty war, preferably conducted at a very great distance.

"According to my legal counsel" -- My lawyer says that what I did was not illegal, so don't blame me if it was. Syn.: "no controlling legal authority."

"Aggressive accounting" -- corporatespeak for simmering, as opposed to cooking, the books.

"Better communications" -- what is needed when programs are rejected on their merits, e.g., Hillary Clinton (post-major defeats in 1994 congressional elections): "We failed to articulate the vision."

"Bilingual education" -- primarily bad Spanish, no English; limited or no reading capability in either.

"Boorish" -- plastertalk to describe outrageous and totally unacceptable conduct, e.g., used as a descriptor in federal court for the dropping of presidential trousers while suggesting sexual favors. Syn.: bumptious.

"Brutally honest" -- willietalk cover for obfuscation.

"Care workers" -- permanent employees and related polyps of the Welfare Industry.

"Collateral damage" -- military spinspeak for near-miss bombing that results in blowing up homes, shopping centers and aspirin factories and killing a lot of civilians -- formerly the wildly popular "bring home the war" targets of American, British, German and Japanese bombers in World War II.

"Common ground" -- willietalk for where everyone comes together after you alone have handed over your sword. (See: Vital center).

"Contributions" -- governmentspeak for taxes.

"Courtesy call" -- adspeak for an intrusive, irritating sales phone call usually made at dinner time or later in the evening by an ill-informed, illiterate "telemarketer" reading haltingly from a disingenuous script.

"Deconstruction" -- political rewriting of history to position the losers as the winners.

"Disadvantaged" -- any situation of comparative difference with the implication that redress is both needed and morally required.

"Ethnic language competence" -- inability to speak English.

"Evasive" -- willietalk for lying, usually modified with words such as "somewhat" or "a little."

"First step" -- bravebabble used to cover up inadequacy or total failure resulting from a negotiation or effort much publicized in advance; particularly favored by foreign-policy officials after major diplomatic meetings.

"Healing consultant" -- technospeak spawn of psychobabble sent into a disaster situation with much fanfare in lieu of more costly real help. See: Grief counseling.

"Honest mistake" -- fig leaf form of plastertalk for a variety of outrages, ethical and moral lapses, and criminal activities. Syns.: bureaucratic snafu, mistakes were made.

"Impose peace" -- dovish spinspeak for use of bombing to execute the ancient Roman strategy of pacification through the creation of a desert.

"Inappropriate sexual banter" -- willietalk for phone sex that some bluenoses would define as explicit sexual conversation accompanied by what in a more delicate age was called self-abuse.

"Investment" -- spending of public money, usually pork.

"Making progress" -- willietalk (unless supported with verifiable factual details) to put a positive veneer on no progress. See: Moving forward, encouraged.

"Memory" -- a once-powerful tool of personal knowledge that now is a vast, mostly empty warehouse where, despite mighty searches, one can find little of the past and, therefore, can only beg forgiveness and move on. See: Move on. Syn.: remembering.

"Old news" -- category shift characterizing some criminal act, outrage or gross embarrassment as being not worthy of further consideration because it was reported yesterday. Such reports often are the result of deliberate leaks by the perpetrators to pre-empt announcements by investigators.

"Paradigm shift" -- corporate-speak inflater for dropping a disastrous strategy and firing a bunch of losers to be replaced by a new team and strategy that might save the CEO from early retirement; also useful in explaining unexpected economic collapses.

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