Letter from the editor: The tyranny of Doublespeak


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The Independent Online

Remember as a child how you would sometimes be listening to adults and see their mouths moving but not understand a word?

How they were “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”? No? Was that just me? Because they were speaking Italian and I had not yet learnt mamma’s beautiful language? Seriously, my adults did speak English, especially at school, but as most children come to learn dishearteningly, it was often more akin to the “Doublespeak” of George Orwell’s 1984 than anything else we learnt.

It’s how I feel so often today, listening to “our” leaders, often in press statements. They are usually addressing the profoundly serious: justifying wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling us the economy is getting better, or that if elected they would fight for the NHS, for education, for the environment.

But Doublespeak also lives in the relatively trivial: from the wannabes who sleep with a celebrity (and the tabloids to which they try to sell their stories) who argue “freedom of the press”, to the football club chairmen who express the dreaded “full confidence” in their manager.

Every time you hear transport or utility charges are being increased “to improve services”, or a shop is being renovated to bring you your Santander, that’s Doublespeak. The “Your M&S” campaign has much to answer for. But is Doublespeak worse than silence? “Your” leaders on Bahrain, Chinese dissidents, resurgent bankers’ bonuses or the chaotic disgrace that is Britain’s immigration system? And do we actually deserve it? Look at the way any politician or celebrity who slightly mis-speaks or expresses themselves clumsily (Ken Clarke) or reveals their unreconstructed mind (Prince Philip) is pounced upon and excoriated.

The tyranny of Doublespeak is why we value journalists like Johann Hari or Dominic Lawson who can cut through it; and why i is so proudly non-party political.

Why am I musing on this? Well, partly because I have been watching Fifa’s Sepp Blatter give a press conference, and partly because if you work a bank holiday at i Towers, “your” editor-in-chief promises a day off in lieu. Happy Tuesday.