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By: Anna Cmolik
doublespeak. When used to ‘improve’ a paper or written work, most people find this acceptable because it is most often, not trying to deceive, but to make one sound more intelligent. The use of doublespeak is what we’ve been taught ever since we all learned to write. I remember being in grade school, sitting at my desk with this huge thesaurus and the paragraph that I wrote about my summer vacation. My assignment was to take every descriptive word I had written and use the thesaurus to find a bigger and better synonym to replace it with. In high school, I remember getting points taken off my paper because I did not use a more descriptive word in place of ‘giant’, ‘amazing’, or ‘annoying’. We first began to decorate our writing with bigger, more ‘impressive’ words because our teachers and educators told us it was how to write a good paper. But, today, there are far more reasons behind it besides the fact that we grew up doing it. According to Joanna Paterson in her article, “Why Do People Choose To Use Long Words”, some of these reasons include desire to prove that one’s topic is complex, fear of seeming un-educated, desire to write as others do, desire to seem mature, and because it is how the people above us, students, write. I’m sure not all of us whip out that thesaurus every time we begin to write, but when we do, it is most often for these reasons. Another reason we like to make our writing more complex could be to make our ideas or points seem more detailed and extravagant than they really are. This is most common in student writing when one feels their ideas are weak.
Most people in the United States today believe that, when writing something, it is acceptable to embellish what they have to say by trying to use bigger words and more academic sounding sentence patterns. When they do this, however, they are contributing to the use of doublespeak. What is doublespeak you ask? Doublespeak is evasive, ambiguous language that is intended to deceive or confuse, in other words, doublespeak can be written bullshit, but it isn’t always so. When you use larger or more academic sounding words when you write, this could also be seen as Doublespeak. However, almost everywhere in the world today, anytime someone uses doublespeak as bullshit in everyday life, it is frowned upon. When you see an infomercial on television, listen to a door to door salesman, or hear a politician talk about why you should vote for them or a specific issue, you are becoming the ‘victim’ of doublespeak. I say ‘victim’ because most often, when we encounter these things, we become annoyed and irritated because we know they are just saying things to get us to buy something or vote for someone/something and we think they might just be ‘bullshitting’ us and trying to deceive us. This, however, is still doublespeak, but the worst kind of
Whichever the reasoning, however, we are all guilty of using doublespeak when we write at one time or another. In fact, according to Joanna Peterson in the previously stated article, she touches on some of Daniel Oppenheimer’s research which discovered that 86% of Stanford students admitted to using complicated wording and language when they write to make them seem smarter. But is it really making us seem smarter, or a less talented writer? Many people believe that doublespeak can be a good thing, but one just has to be careful to only use it to assist, not support whatever he/she has writing. Using it to assist would be just to improve your paper here or there with a less used descriptive word, but to use it to support, would be on the verge of bullshitting. When you use doublespeak to support a paper, you are most often deceiving your readers and trying to convince them that what you are writing is important or that your supporting reasons are more important and intelligent than they actually are. If you begin to use it as a crutch, you can get yourself into some serious trouble. These people believe that if you only use it occasionally, that it is acceptable. Some people believe that it is even acceptable to use it on every ‘ordinary’ word. One just has to be careful not to use too many big, unfamiliar words or it may become confusing. When using doublespeak, it can make other people think that we are weak writers because we have to use elaborate words to assist us in proving our points instead of just being able to do so by our writing. Overall, doublespeak is used too much in today’s world, and for a reader to read something filled with simple and familiar words would be much more
enjoyable than reading something speckled with complicated and unknown words and phrases. The opinions of academic writers in the United States concerning the task of doublespeak differ greatly. Some think using larger, more descriptive words when writing is a positive thing. In his article “Why You Should and Shouldn’t Use a Thesaurus”, Earl Hunsinger is blunt in saying “…it’s boring to use the same word every time.” This is true, it is boring, but in most cases, we can come up with synonyms on our own without having to pull out the big, annoying thesaurus. Most of the people, even educated people in the United States agree, including William Lutz who described doublespeak as “…language that makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, the unpleasant seem attractive…”. He continues on to say that it is “…language which pretends to communicate but really does not. Doublespeak is language which does not extend thought but limits it.” By this, he is saying that he believes that all doublespeak is bullshit, which isn’t necessarily true. It is possible to use doublespeak without turning it into written bullshit. But regardless to what extent it is used to in a written work, many people still find it unacceptable and useless in any amount when reading it. In the United States today, many people believe that using a thesaurus and doublespeak to assist their writing is an appropriate tool of what makes ‘good writing’. However, there are many times when doublespeak is used is everyday life by the people around us where we find it to be extremely offensive and annoying. A Princeton study even found that writers who use long, complicated words without
reason were seen as less intelligent than writers who used normal words from their everyday vocabulary (“A Secret…”). And yet, most of us also use it in everyday life and most of our writing without even realizing it. The opinion on what doublespeak really is, is evenly spread all across the board. Some people believe it is truly ‘bullshitting’ in the attempt to deceive, while others, believe doublespeak is simply using more extensive, rarely used language to make what you are saying sound more formal. In reality, it is both since they are both types of doublespeak, but the only difference is the reason and meaning behind the use of each of them. Regardless of the definition of doublespeak, most of us use it as an additive to our papers, simply to assist, not to deceive. We all were taught at a young age to use descriptive language that is not used every day and to write as professionally as if we were writing to someone in a position of power. What we all fail to realize is that we can write formally, and sound well-educated and
mature by just using the ‘normal’ words that we would use in everyday conversation. So many great writers such as Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J.K. Rowling wrote using language that was actually quite simple, and they have all sold millions of books. Even Anne Frank, who didn’t intend for her diary to ever be published, wrote with plain language, and still, so many people have read and enjoyed her diary very much. I think we need to open their minds and be a little more open to doublespeak, since it is used to often in today’s world. But I also think that simpler, in most cases, is much better. When one writes with plain, unelaborated language, it allows the reader to slip into what they are reading more, rather than them being stuck on the outside being denied entry by unneeded words. I believe that Joseph Williams says it best in his journal article “Defining Complexity”, “We have to be able to write in a way that lets us communicate clearly but still sound as if what we have to say is invested with a sense of significance.”
Works Cited Blanchard, Jennifer. "Hint to Writers: Use the Thesaurus with Caution." Daily Writing Tips. 2009. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://www.dailywritingtips.com/hint-to-writers-use-the-thesaurus-withcaution/>. Eubank, Philip, and John D. Schaeffer. "A Kind Word for Bullshit: The Problem of Academic Writing." College Composition and Communication 59 (2008): 372-88. National Council of Teachers of English. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20457010>. Eubanks, Philip, and John D. Schaeffer. "A Kind Word for Bullshit: The Problem of Academic Writing." College Composition and Communication 59 (2008): 372-88. National Council of Teachers of English. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20457010>. Lutz, William. "Doublespeak." Public Relations Quarterly (2001): 25-30. Manchester.edu. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://users.manchester.edu/FacStaff/MPLahman/Homepage/BerkebileMyWebsite/d oublespeak.pdf>. Oppenheimer, Daniel M. "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Wiley InterScience (2005): 13956. Princeton.edu. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://web.princeton.edu/sites/opplab/papers/Opp%20Consequences%20of%20Erudit e%20Vernacular.pdf>.
Paterson, Joanna. "Why Do People Choose to Use Long Words?" Confident Writing. 4 Dec. 2008. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://confidentwriting.com/2008/12/why-do-people-choose-touse-long-words/>. "The Secret of Impressive Writing? Keep It Plain And Simple." Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. 31 Oct. 2005. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051031075447.htm>. Williams, Joseph M. "Defining Complexity." College English 40 (1979): 595-609. National Council of Teachers of English. 17 Jan. 2012 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/375963>.
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