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. 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 makes an opposing view ever more difficult to enunciate. In this fascinating book, Poole traces modern Unspeak and reveals how the evolution of language changes the way we think.
Politicians are held in such low esteem these days that most people assume they are lying or twisting the truth until proven otherwise. Now, as if to confirm that bit of popular wisdom, Guardian contributor Poole (Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution), addresses "unspeak," his term for politically loaded language in which a sound bite implies an entire unspoken political argument. With ample outrage and barbed wit, Poole unpacks some of the most prevalent and politically charged expressions animating today's political and media discourse, from "intelligent design" to "global warming," "collateral damage" to the "war on terror." His targets are staples of liberal complaint against current ideology, with much of the book and his contempt devoted to disentangling the propaganda that has been marshaled on behalf of the "war on terror" and the war in Iraq. Poole's goal is not only to shed light on how politicians manipulate language to justify their actions but also to shame the media into rejecting the official line rather than parroting government talking points. This book takes no word at face value, which will anger some and enlighten others, just as a book of social and linguistic commentary should.