Steven Poole coined the phrase ‘Unspeak’ as a fitting title for his book describing the process by which certain key words can lay claim to the high moral ground in a contentious matter without having to justify the argument.
‘Unspeak’ should not be confused with George Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ or ‘doublespeak’ which effectively reversed the meaning of words, ‘unspeak’ is a deliberate attempt to to make the message ‘reality’.
Poole compares and contrasts ‘tax relief’ and ‘tax burden’, which covertly argue that lowered taxes automatically relieve and unburden everybody. Pro-choice distances its speakers from actually advocating abortion, while casting “adversaries as ‘anti-choice’; as interfering, patriarchal dictators.”
When governments speak of a surgical strike they convey the benevolent practice of medicine, ridding a target of its disease.Collateral damage redefines the death of innocents as injury. Smart weapons posit the opposite of dumb weapons that kill indiscriminately. Daisy cutter sanitizes the killing power of the daisy-cutter bomb. Weapons of mass destruction, which earlier referred to the horrific mechanized tools of warfare being stockpiled in the 1930s, now applies to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons when possessed by ‘other’ regimes.
Poole writes, “But Unspeak does not say one thing while meaning another. It says one thing while really meaning that one thing,” and the confusion unspeak generates is almost always calculated and deliberate.
As the channel through which politicians, activists, and corporations market their words, reporters are usually the first recipients of new examples of unspeak. Monitoring how they say what they say is as important as reporting precisely what they say. As Poole notes, resisting unspeak isn’t quibbling about semantics. It’s attacking the “chain of reasoning at its base.”
In May 2007. the word ‘abduction’ was on everybody’s lips, in every newspaper headline, on every news bulletin. What sea change has occurred, that now when discussing the McCann case, that emotive word ‘abduction’, with its implication that unspeakable acts which could not have been foreseen are responsible, have gradually and insidiously been replaced by the media with the words ‘disappeared’ or ’vanished”?
The recently published accounts for ‘The Madeleine Fund’, as it is colloquially known, contain these words from the Chairman, John McCann.
‘On 3rd May 2007, Madeleine McCann was abducted in Praia da Luz, Portugal’.
That word ‘abducted’ jumped out at me, and I realised what a very long time it had been since I saw that word used by the mainstream media in connection with this case.