23 May 1990


This growing body of research shows that new, postevent information often becomes incorporated into memory, supplementing and altering a person's recollection. The new information invades us, like a Trojan horse, precisely because we do not detect its influence.

The term unspeak, coined by Steven Poole in the book by the same name, describes a tendency in recent political speech to deliberately use phrasing with subtle connotations that obscure opposing or alternate viewpoints. It would be the most advanced weapon in the arsenal of spin doctors. The general idea is that of a Trojan horse, or an information bomb, slipping past conscious critical thought to expand into an idea resistant to argument, without having had to argue for itself in the first place.

From the introduction:

[...] It represents an attempt 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: in terms of ‘life’ rather than ‘choice’, or in terms of tax as something to be ‘relieved’ rather than, say, a way of ‘contributing’ to society.

[...] (In fact, the existing phrase ‘concentration camp’ already did the same thing somewhat more subtly: people in ‘concentration camps’, after all, did not sit around in tents playing chess or writing poetry. That phrase originated as a British euphemism for its own practices in South Africa. Language that was originally used by the perpetrators of violence in order to justify it became the normal term: a pattern that we will see repeated in Chapter Four.)

More at Unspeak.net.

See also posts tagged unspeak, in particular non-arguability.