About The Book
Unspeak is a critical look at how politicians, interest groups, and the media manipulate language, silence ideas, and change the way we think.
What do the phrases “pro-life,” “intelligent design,” and “the war on terror” have in common? Each of them is a name for something that smuggles in a highly charged political opinion. “Climate change” is less threatening than “global warming”; we say “ethnic cleansing” when we mean “mass murder.” A completely partisan argument can be packed into a sound bite. Words and phrases that function in this special way go by many names. Some writers call them “evaluative-descriptive terms.” Others talk of “terministic screens” or discuss the way debates are “framed.” Author Steven Poole calls them Unspeak. Unspeak represents an attempt by politicians, interest groups, and business corporations to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak—in the sense of erasing or silencing—any possible opposing point of view by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem. Recalling the vocabulary of George Orwell’s 1984, as an Unspeak phrase becomes a widely used term of public debate, it saturates the mind with one viewpoint while simultaneously make an opposing view ever more difficult to enunciate.
In this fascinating book, Poole traces modern Unspeak—from “extremist” to “weapons of mass destruction”—and reveals how the evolution of language changes the way we think. “Propaganda” becomes “public diplomacy,” and “sound science” (a phrase actually coined by tobacco giant Philip Morris) becomes a tool with which to instill a fear and distrust of legitimate scientific research.
“Unspeak deserves a place in every journalist’s vocabulary.” —Jack Shafer, Slate
“A sharply articulated, well-documented expos of the political and economic manipulation of language. . . . A necessary public service in prose occasionally rendered sarcastic by the absurdity of the material. Fans of Orwell, take heart.” —Kirkus Reviews
“As we approach yet another political campaign season, this remarkable new book examines the intersection where words and politics collide.” — Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen