Friday, January 5, 2018

The North is not the “Upper Midwest”

"Doublespeak…How Language is Used to Deceive You,” by William Lutz, 1989/2015

I write this while listening to Minnesota Public (Govt) Radio and indeed, you can listen to NPR and see how relevant this book is.  I just heard a ‘newsman’ while attacking Keith Ellison pronounce ‘Antifa’ as ‘An-Tifa’ not “Anti-Fa.” This is to hide the fact the word is a shortened form of 'anti-fascist.'

Newspeak is news-speak.
This book indicates that there are really two languages being spoken at all times – one by ordinary people, the other by various capitalist powers that be.  No, I don’t mean English and Spanish in the U.S., though that plays into it.  Class society doesn’t just produce economic inequality or two justice systems, it also produces two forms of language.  For the majority of the population it churns out verbal garbage, while ordinary people are still attempting to speak clearly.  This garbage consists of various forms of what Lutz calls “doublespeak” – jargon, political rhetoric, lies, goobledygook, obfuscation, legalese and bureaucratese.  Even mispronunciations!    

We are aware of successful and misleading corporate media terms like ‘Obamacare,’ the ‘death tax,’ ‘pro-life,’ ‘collateral damage,’  ‘the Races,’ 'revolutionary,' ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ ‘entitlements,’ ‘tort reform,’ ‘Russiagate’ the “Defense Department,” ‘faith-based initiatives,’ 'fake news,' 'terrorism' and terms like ‘reform’ and ‘change’ in politics.  These terms are the normal linguistic soup the 'news' swims in each day.  But deceptive language exists as a constant practice in capitalist corporate, legal, advertising, education and government sectors too, and there is a reason for this.

The reason is it is ultimately essential to veil or hide what is going on from the general public, as what is happening is actually hostile to the interests of the majority.  So duplicitous doublespeak becomes necessary to any ruling class and its institutions.  Lutz here has collected tons of examples of somewhat fraudulent or deceptive phrases, words and language that basically hide negative events.  This relentless ‘positivism’ is doublespeak’s essence.

Some examples?  Every worker is aware of the euphemisms that businesses use to describe layoffs, firings or speedup. ‘Restructuring,’ ‘downsizing,’ ‘stream-lining,’ ‘reduction in force,’ ‘workforce adjustments,’ ‘headcount reductions’ and the classic ‘negative employee retention.’   ‘Culture change’ is used to describe speedup for the remaining workers. There is even a game called 'bullshit bingo' which gives points to those who hear worthless jargon in a company meeting or read it in a company memo.

Corporate and economic terms seem to borrow from the weather, as negative Wall Street events are described as natural weather episodes.  Watch for terms like 'atmosphere,' 'erosion,' 'economic climate,' 'cloudy future' or even the medical 'plague.'  Losses or bad loans are called ‘non-performing assets.’  Lutz especially attacks accounting firms for their rampant ‘creative accounting’ which fills corporate reports with lies.  This happened both in the 1980s S&L collapses and the 2008 mortgage meltdown.  An Amazon warehouse is called a ‘fulfillment center.’  The workers there are called ‘associates’ or ‘team’ members and are not even ‘employees’ anymore.  Capitalist media like NPR use the same terminology that the corporations use, which is a verbal tipoff that that media is being a megaphone or stenographer, and are not actual reporters.

In the corporate food business, Lutz warns any shopper to beware of advertising words like ‘new,’ ‘natural,’ ‘improved,’ ‘extra,’ ‘fresh,’ ‘clean,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘free,’ ‘good,’ ‘great,’ and ‘light’ because they have no actual factual meanings, nor are they required to have one by government agencies. Advertisers and retailers hope the shopper assumes the meaning.

In the law, it has been long known that the legal systems uses archaic or convoluted terminology on purpose.  Even when attorneys can take CLE’s telling them how to write clearly, these classes makes no difference. Long, complex and obscure paragraphs are the result and many attorneys seem to pride themselves on how bad their prose really is. Of course they are only imitating the dreadful language and sentence-structure used in the laws themselves, which are impenetrable except to trained readers or lawyers with 3 year JDs.

Given this book was written in the 1980s, it covers the lies promulgated by governments around the world at the time.  One was South Africa, which presided over apartheid at the time.   The South African ‘Ministry of Cooperation and Development’ was responsible for managing apartheid, which had nothing to do with development or cooperation. A government minister said: “We do not have censorship.  What we have is a limitation on what newspapers can report.”  Apartheid was re-christened ‘self-determination.’  The “Extension of Universities Act” actually closed universities for blacks, Asians and ‘coloreds.’  And so on. 

As Orwell wrote in the book 1984, ‘war is peace.’  In that vein, Lutz takes the U.S. military to task too.  A ‘vertical insertion’ means a raid from the air.  The “Department of Defense” even needs its own dictionary for its terms.  In Vietnam, mercenaries were ‘civilian irregular defense soldiers.’  Refugees were ‘ambient noncombatant personnel’ and enemies who survived bombing were ‘interdictional nonsuccumbers.’ (!)  A ‘tactical redeployment’ meant a retreat.  A later term, ‘low intensity warfare,’ is described as warfare with little political support.  The invasion of Grenada was a ‘rescue mission.’  The invasion of Panama was an ‘anti-drug operation.’ Later bombing raids and invasions are called some version of a 'humanitarian rescue.' Death and killing are rarely mentioned regarding what U.S. soldiers actually do, in recruiting ads or afterwards.  And so on. 

The ‘bottom-line,’ as they like to say in capitalist economics, is that we are saturated with deceptive language.  Nothing has changed since the 1980s – I think euphemisms have only increased.  The main weakness of this book is the shear volume of terms that Lutz lists, which becomes overwhelming.  You could almost create an Excel spreadsheet instead, listing every term of phrase and its real meaning.  It covers many different areas that will provide almost a dictionary for any area you are most interested in.

Why the header?   
If you notice, weatherpersons and newscasters never mention ‘the North.’  They mention the West, the South, the East, even the Northeast.  But Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa/Illinois/Michigan/Indiana, even Ohio, are all called ‘the upper Midwest’ or the 'Midwest.'  On a map, if the Mississippi is the divide between east and west, the 'upper Midwest' would actually be Montana and Idaho - only maybe the Dakotas.  A certainly Minnesota, which is bifurcated by the Mississippi, is the 'linchpin' of the North.  The Midwest would be Colorado or Utah/Nevada.  Sometimes they use weasel words like the 'Great Lakes region,' which is still a downgrade.   They refuse to call the Northeast the North sometimes. They have verbally disappeared the North! I think this is for political reasons.

Prior reviews or commentary that deal with language issues:  Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” Chomsky’s “The Manufacture of Consent,” commentary “There is Only One Race,” Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster…,” Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” Zizek’s “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?” the book Fashionable Nonsense,” Graeber’s “The Utopia of Rules.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
January 5, 2018

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