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1984 Doublespeak Activity

Activity 1.5-6 The World of Doublespeak
In Orwell's 1984, doublethink is a form of mind control where a person is able to believe contrary ideas
or facts at the same time and to forget that one is consciously doing it. Whatever is deemed to be true
by the Inner Party is automatically accepted as true by all Party members even if it contradicts what was
said to be true previously. Today the sky is stated by the Party to be green, yesterday it was purple. By
using doublethink, both statements are accepted by all as true. Truth is whatever the Party says is
true at the moment. This is a satire on the conformity of thought urged and enforced in certain
societies during Orwell's time (Germany, Russia, and Spain). Although this extreme form of mass mind
control has not taken shape in our present societies, a lesser version has evolved. This version is
called doublespeak.
What is doublespeak? According to William Lutz, a professor at Rutgers University who has written
books on the subject, it is language that attempts to deceive, hides true meaning, and prevents clear
Doublespeak is language which pretends to communicate but really doesn't. It is language which makes the
bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive, or at least tolerable. It is
language which avoids or shifts responsibility, language which is at variance with its real or purported
meaning. It is language which conceals or prevents thought. Doublespeak is language which does not
extend thought but limits it. 1
The National Council of Teachers of English has been tracking doublespeak since the early 1970s. A
Committee on Public Doublespeak was formed to search out abuses of language by the government,
industry, advertisers, military, health care, educators, and anyone who influences public policy in our
country. This committee gives out annual awards to those who have most abused or misused the
language. Below, a partial list of doublespeak expressions the committee has uncovered is printed.
Directions: Match each doublespeak expression with its meaning. Write the letter of your answer on
the line provided after the expression.
Part A.
Military terms
1. Front-leaning rest exercises
2. Preemptive counterattack
3. Air support
4. Servicing the target
5. Collateral damage
6. Tactical redeployment
7. Large potentially disruptive reentry system
Business terms
8. Non-performing assets
9. Management turnovers
10. Negative patient-care outcome
11. Inhalation hazard
12. Adult correctional institution
13. Environmentally destabilized
14. Energetic disassembly
15. Sub-standard housing
16. Revenue enhancement
17. Period of accelerated negative growth
Civilian casualties
Nuclear bomb
Killing the enemy
Bad loans
Death in a hospital
Poison gas
Job layoffs
Nuclear power plant explosion
O. Recession
P. Ghetto
Q. Taxes
Lutz, William. “Fourteen Years of Doublespeak,” English Journal (March 1988): 40.
Adapted from 1984 The Center for Learning
Part B.
Professor Lutz writes that “doublespeak is not the product of careless
language or sloppy thinking.” Rather it is “the product of clear thinking
and is language carefully designed … to mislead … to distort reality …
to corrupt the mind.”
1. Select 3 doublespeak expressions from the list above & write them
on the opposite side of your paper. Beside each one explain why it
was created & how it misleads the reader.
2. Do you think that doublespeak is dangerous? Explain your opinion in
paragraph form.
Part C.
Finally, Professor Lutz claims that doublespeak is very dangerous and
can “ultimately destroy the function of language.” He writes,
The use of doublespeak can spread so that it becomes the
language of public discourse, with speakers and listeners
convinced that they really understand such language. After
a while we may really believe that politicians don’t lie but
only “misspeak,” that illegal acts are merely “inappropriate
actions” … If we really believe that … such language
communicates and promotes clear thought, then the world
of 1984 with its control of reality through language is not
far away.”
Examples of Doublespeak in the Media Today
1. The USA used to support a group of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan
called the "Mujahideen", which means, "freedom fighters". This was back
when the USA was giving military assistance to those people when the Soviet
Army was fighting them. Today, most of those same people are still
fighting...only this time they are fighting AGAINST the USA. Instead of
calling them "Mujahideen" we refer to them now as "Al-Queda".
2. In 1997, President Bill Clinton praised the balanced-budget agreement as “a
great victory for all Americans” that “put America’s fiscal house in order
again” even though the agreement actually ensured the growth of the budget
3. The purpose of the CIA’s "Psychological Warfare Manual," prepared for
rebels fighting the government of Central Nicaragua, was "to make every
guerilla persuasive in face-to-face communication" and to develop "political
awareness," and insisted that the manual's "emphasis is on education. . . ."
The CIA manual, Lutz noted, "gave advice on the ‘selective use of violence'
to ‘neutralize' Nicaraguan officials, such as judges, police, and state security
officials. . . ."
1. WHY is doublespeak dangerous?
2. What can we (as an individual) do to mitigate this danger?
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