Unspeak usually flows from the lips of politicians, but news organizations are equally inventive. Poole quotes a Fox News Channel executive who instructed reporters to refer to U.S. "sharpshooters" in Iraq instead of U.S. "snipers," because snipers was negative. The same Fox News sought to substitute "homicide bombers" for "suicide bombers" because "suicide" gave too much prominence to the attacker.
Poole asks how the war on terror can exist when it's almost impossible to wage war on a technique; he recoils at the euphemism of detainee abuse, which minimizes physical and psychological violence; and punctures those who dress their acts in the cloths of democracy, freedom, and liberty.
Other suspect phrases and words that Poole takes his cane to: intelligent design. Sound science. Security fence. Regime change. Extremism. Moderate. Coalition forces.
Unlike George Lakoff, who lectures the Democratic Party about the importance of "framing" political debates in order to win them, Poole dismisses this tactic as fighting unspeak with unspeak, as the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" schools demonstrate. Quoting linguist Ranko Bugarski, Poole maintains that what's needed is "judicious use of normal language, allowing for fine-grained selection and discrimination, for urbanity and finesse," even though "normal language" is already subject to unending political debate.
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." Making sense of nonsense is 90 percent of what being a journalist is about. To forewarn readers about unspeak, Poole advises, is to forearm them.
As I read Poole's book, a couple of examples of unspeak came to me: Accept responsibility. Gridlock. Loopholes. Islamofacism. Send your favorite original examples to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best of them and credit the senders.
Addendum, Jan. 23: No more submissions, please. See the Tuesday "Press Box" column for the readers' unspeak nominations.
(E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)