BRIAN LAMB, HOST: William Lutz, what is double-speak?
WILLIAM LUTZ, AUTHOR, "DOUBLESPEAK": Double-speak is language designed to evade responsibility, make the unpleasant appear pleasant, the unattractive appear attractive. Basically, it's language that pretends to communicate, but really doesn't. It is language designed to mislead, while pretending not to.
LAMB:Is it done consciously?
LUTZ: Oh, yes! Very consciously. Doublespeak is not a slip of the tongue or a mistaken use of language, it's exactly the opposite. It is language used by people who are very intelligent and very sophisticated in the use of language, and know that you can do an awful lot with language.
LAMB:Who is the worst offender?
LUTZ: In sheer bulk?
LUTZ: Sheer numbers of examples? The government, if we count government from the local level all the way up to the federal level. I had to stop writing the chapter on government double-speak. It was going to take over the whole book. But interestingly enough, and this was a revelation in doing the book, about a half a step behind, comes business, with a tremendous amount of double-speak.
LAMB:How long has the government been using doublespeak?
LUTZ: Um, I think of government as the third oldest profession, and probably from the moment government was instituted, double-speak came with it. I cite examples from the 5th century BC in Greece, um, Julius Caesar, when he pacified Gaul(?). Of course Nazi Germany thrived on double-speak, so its been around for quite a while.
LAMB:When did you first get interested in this?
LUTZ: In 1978 I became the, head of the committee on public doublespeak and in 1980 I started editing the Quarterly Review of doublespeak, and that's when I became very interested in it, simply because I, as editing, I have all the examples of doublespeak sent to me, and so I wade through them all.
LAMB:What got you interested in it?
LUTZ: My interest in rhetoric, -- I did in my Ph.D., I did work in rhetoric and I was interested in rhetoric, and in 1977 I published a textbook called "The Age of Communication", which was a little different at the time. I tried to examine the rhetoric of television, radio, the mass media, advertising, taking a established classical rhetoric and apply it to modern media. I had a lot of fun doing that and as a result of that textbook, I was asked to join the committee and I saw rhetoric and language coming all together in doublespeak in an interesting way.
LAMB:Universities also have a problem with double speak, don't they?
LUTZ: Oh yes, I continually bite the hand that feeds when I cite Rutgers, and I, at least every issue, I have an example from Rutgers University. One of my favorite, we don't have a "Physical Education" department at Rutgers, we have a department of "Human Kinetics".
LUTZ: Well, I also point out in my book that people in physical education, have come up with all of these different terms, because they've gone professional. They now have their own journals, so they have their own academic jargon, and as the dean at Minnesota who wanted to change the name of his "Physical Education" school said, "We're not taken seriously unless we have a name like this." "We can't get the grants, we can't publish the articles."
LAMB:How long have you been at Rutgers?
LUTZ: Since 1971.
LAMB:What do you teach?
LUTZ: I teach a variety of courses in the English department, but I teach rhetoric, linguistics and some Victorian literature, and I also teach a survey course that's required of all students. We start with the Illiad(?) and the Odyssey and work our way up.
LAMB:Is there any example in history, I mean ancient history, and literature of doublespeak?
LUTZ: Yes, I, one I cite just as a passing example is Thucydides in the 5th century BC, in the Pelleponesian war. During the war there was a very vicious civil war in Athens at that time, and Thucydidies points out that at that time, the very language itself became corrupted to their own ends, acts of cowardice became acts of great bravery, traitorous deeds towards friends became patriotic acts, and he cites the whole list. And its interesting that Thucydidies cites this corruption of language as the ultimate in horror that occurred during that civil war.
LAMB:Do you ever personally find yourself using double-speak?
LUTZ: Oh yeah. When I was, head of the department, I had to engage in double-speak. You have to write recommendations, you have to write personnel evaluation forms. I had to pitch for more money, and so you use the double-speak of bureaucracy, as anyone else. If I were a bureaucrat who, who would function within the bureaucracy using straight language, I wouldn't be taken seriously. It, its a sort of ritualistic use of language.
LAMB:Are you in this whole world of double-speak because you want to get rid of it ?
LUTZ: Oh yes. I don't think you'll ever get rid of it, I don't think we can. It is inherent in the function of language, to, to use language, to, as a weapon or as a tool, to manipulate other people, however, I think there are two things we can do. First of all, we can all become much more aware of this language. We should be aware of it, so that we can at least be defensive, and, and defend ourselves so that we're not misled through it. But secondly, there are times when we simply cannot tolerate this language. When we talk about important public issues of national policy, we should not use double-speak, as a nation. We should not use it ourselves. We should not allow the politicians, who are speaking to us, to use it. Language that way can be terribly corrupting in a society and can mislead all of us, and in a democracy that depends upon the active participation of its citizens, it can lead to cynicism and resentment and a withdrawal from the political process.
LAMB:Is that, does that have anything to do with the reason why the, only 50% of the American people voted in 1988?
LUTZ: I have a, a hypothesis that I would love to test, and, and I hope sometime to be able to do that. I would love to, to be able to track the pervasiveness of double-speak, as it grew, along with the decline in voting, because the reaction I get to "Doublespeak", from a lot of, of readers of the Quarterly Review, is they write to as, "Well of course I know this language, I see it all over the place, I see it all the time, but, you know, what, what else can you expect from politicians, they all lie, they all use double-speak". It is that cynicism which leads to, "There's nothing I can do about it." So people withdraw and pull back.
LAMB:This book is in the book stores?
LUTZ: Yes it is.
LAMB:And its $17.95?
LAMB:How did you do this book?
LUTZ: I did the book, someone asked me, "How long did it take you to write the book"? I said, "It took me ten years to research it and six months to write it". I sat down and tried to make sense out of all the double-speak that I have been collecting, because there is a, a tendency to have a perception that it is scattered hither and yon. The function of the book is to gather it and focus it, to show you that there is a pattern and a progression to this language, and I structured the book to have a lot of fun in the beginning, and the humorous uses of double-speak, but leading to the more important uses of double-speak by government, the Pentagon and the issues of nuclear war and peace, and how double-speak corrupts that whole process.
LAMB:A couple little things. How did you choose Harper and Row?
LUTZ: Ah, actually, there were two or three publishers and I chose Harper and Row because of the editor at Harper and Row, Hugh VanDusen, who is one of the most respected editors in, in the profession, and it was someone I thought would understand the book and would help me, ah, focus it and guide it and that's why I, I went with Harper and Row.
LAMB:Did you name it?
LUTZ: Well, yes I did, I had a whole bunch of titles, and I was, I was advised not to call it "Doublespeak", to come up with some other kind of descriptive title, but I wanted to, because a lot of people are unsure what they mean by double-speak, so I put the subhead in there, "From Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living". People recognize that immediately. They, they may not be quite sure what double-speak is, but boy they know what revenue enhancement is and terminal living. They've seen enough of that language around.
LAMB:It is selling?
LUTZ: Its in the fourth printing.
LAMB:What's that mean?
LUTZ: It means that they sold out the first printing, they sold out the second printing, they sold out the third printing, and they're into the fourth, and the book stores can't keep it on the shelves, um, a lot of book stores don't have it because its back-ordered, ah, they sell them as fast as they can get them in the stores.
LAMB:How big is a printing?
LUTZ: Well, the first printing was 17,500, the second and third printings were 6,000 copies each, and I think the third printing was bigger, but I'm not sure how much, ah, I haven't found out how much that is, so its at least another 6,000.
LAMB:Have you had any feedback?
LUTZ: Ah, the feedback I have gotten from reviewers, which generally like the book, um, the only thing I've been faulted for is my humor. I guess I'm a little too funny at times, for their tastes. The, otherwise the response from the press has been interesting, an awful lot of reporters, Associated Press did two stories on the book. There were wire press stories in England, and you can't even buy the book in England, and I've done interviews with the BBC, and a friend of mine, who lives in Ireland, called me up and said it's...it was all in the newspapers there, um, and he said, "You can't even buy the book here and they..., they're all interested in it". So the press, the working press, has been fascinated by the book, and I've gotten a lot more reaction from the press than I have from the traditional book reviewers.
LAMB:Have you been on the book tour?
LUTZ: Yes, I've done the book tour, and, I'm an academic, this is my ninth book, but its my first trade book. I was unprepared for the world of trade publishing. My wife is a novelist, she's done two novels, she knows the world of trade publishing, and she has cautioned me about it.
LAMB:What's the work trade mean?
LUTZ: Trade, as opposed to academic, you go into the book store and, and you can buy the book. Academic publishing is done by university press and is more restricted and you won't find these generally in the book store, and its a much smaller audience and smaller press run.This is mass market, this is writing to the public. And so, when I did the book tour, I, I was introduced into the world of, of trade publishing. I found it fascinating when I was in Washington, DC for my tour. Just ahead of me was, Justice, Judge Bork, and just behind me was William Colby. We were all making the tour, pushing our books, and you would go, go from radio station to TV station, to press interview, and, and I found it a fascinating world. I met a lot of other authors. I met Steve Allen and a few other people, but we're all pushing the book. It doesn't make any difference who you are.
LAMB:What surprised you most about the, the book tour?
LUTZ: It is tough, its, its physically demanding, its mentally exhausting, and everyone does it. It doesn't matter, Erma Bombeck, Steve Allen, big names that you would think, name alone would sell the book. They're out there doing exactly the same tour, and I think that that's important though, because I get a sense of audience when I talk to interviewers, and you talk to a variety of people. You see how your writing is perceived. A writer never really knows what the audience sees in the text, so every time I went in, I would be asked something about the book that I hadn't even thought about, or something that I didn't think was significant or important or particularly interesting, I had just put in there for whatever reason, they thought was the most fascinating thing and zeroed in on it.
LAMB:What's the most often asked question?
LUTZ: The chapter on "Food", and "Food Doublespeak." Everyone goes after that one. About..."Is it true that...that you can put sugar-free on a product and still have sugar in it?"....It is probably the one question I've been asked most often, because people simply can't believe that that happens.
LAMB:How can it happen?
LUTZ: Because sugar-free simply means they haven't added table sugar or cane sugar to it. They can add monose(?), fructose, any of the syrup sweeteners and still call it sugar-free.
LAMB:So you know when you eat something that's sugar-free, it has sugar in it?
LUTZ: Oh yes, and by the way, I found out in a radio interview, when they had people in the audience calling in, a man called in and said, "Do you mean that there is sugar in there?" I said "Well yes, there is sugar in that food?" He said, "Well, I'm a diabetic and my wife makes sure she buys only the sugar-free..." I said, "You can't eat those, you have to use only the dietetic because that's governed by law. Sugar-free isn't." Here's a man who was threatening his health through this, this kind of false labeling. It was absolutely amazing. But the...the food chapter has really, I guess....we're all interested in food, for some reason. I've been asked endless questions on that chapter.
LAMB:Is there a particularly unusual question that you were asked on one of those call-in shows?
LUTZ: Usually on the call-in shows people call in to give me their examples of double-speak, which is I always like because I get to write things down. But, the most unusual question, I think I was asked, was I'm trying to think of how he put it, he wanted to know how many examples of double-speak, to that effect, if there was an account. He wanted to know if I had counted it, and, you know I'd never even thought of that, and I have no idea of how many examples I have, because I, all of the examples that I...that I gather, I...I have in a computer data base, so I can call them up quickly and search very quickly. I have no idea how many I have in there. I do know I have a lot.
LAMB:Any part of the country that was more interested than others?
LUTZ: Washington, D.C. was far more interested in it than...than any other parts of the country. It was interesting. When Harper and Row went to market the book, there was very little interest in it by West Coast distributors. There was a minimal interest in it. I think they took copies simply because the first print run was so large, they figured you can't really ignore a book like that...but they weren't, in fact I had phone calls from Los Angeles...George Carlin uses a lot of the double-speak in...in his routines and he always credits me, and he called me up and he said, "I want your book but I can't find it." And I said, "Try ordering it." He couldn't even get it in his book store, and he said he was trying to get the book store to, to stock it for me, so the...that part of the country wasn't interested, but the Midwest was interested, but the East Coast, New York and Washington, D.C., the book took off immediately.
LAMB:Is there anything to the, the...the possibility that because we here in this town are the champions of double-speak, we, do we know we're the champions of double-speak and can't get out of it?
LUTZ: I think it, it's that people in, in, in Washington, D.C. that I meet are kind of proud about that, "Well we really know this stuff." Cabbies tell me this, when I...you know...."You're here for the book tour, what's your book?" And I tell them..."Boy we know that." And the cabbies will start giving me examples....I think people in Washington, D.C. and New York are extremely sensitive to language. They live in a language environment that is probably more intense than other sections of the country, and they're more aware of it, so I think the book struck a responsive cord for that reason. I find that people, a couple people that I've talked to, the first thing they did when they got the book, will pick it up and they will look, to see if there is an index of double-speak terms, to see if their favorite term is in there. That's the first thing they want to know, and then they'll say, "Well, you didn't include"....and, that's the reaction. It's a personal reaction.
LAMB:You, you seem like you self-consciously pointed out in the, in the early part of this book, that there are no footnotes. Is that because you're an academician and you always had footnotes...?
LUTZ: Yes, yes.
LAMB:In all the other books?
LUTZ: I write footnotes a lot, and I think I wanted to reach a, a wide audience, and I had a choice, either I could, even documenting it, by the way, putting the footnotes in the back and end notes, anybody reading a text that sees all these little numbers, all the way through it, they just don't, I think that it, it scares them off and, and it changes the whole tone of the work. So I wanted to say, "All of these examples are real, I can document all of them, but I'm not going to include the documentation here." And in those instances where I have been asked to document them, I have documented them.
LAMB:It's only got 290 pages, small book.
LUTZ: I think it's long, actually, for the material. It's pretty dense material, and the challenge in the book was to make it readable. I didn't want it to be just a listing of terms. I wanted to show that there is a coherence to this first of all, and secondly, that this can be fun and enjoyable to read at the same time that it's educational. I don't see anything wrong with laughing and learning at the same time, and that's the kind of book that I wanted to write.
LAMB:What are the other books that you've done, you don't have to go through every one of them, but what, in, in general, what are your other...
LUTZ: Well, at the same time that I published that, I published a collection of essays on double speak, by the National Council of Teachers of English, in which I asked a, a group of scholars to each contribute an essay, on an aspect of double-speak, so I edited those and published that book. I edited the revised edition of the "Webster's New World Thesaurus", published by Simon and Schuster. I'm probably one of the few people who has ever read the dictionary, from cover to cover twice, and, and I've, and I've edited that Thesaurus, and then, a variety of textbooks on rhetoric and on writing, and a book on revolution and revolutionary theory.
LAMB:What, what did you learn when you read that dictionary from cover to cover?
LUTZ: Boy, did I learn a lot about words, ha, ha, ha. I learned a lot of archaic words, a lot of archaic definitions, but, you know the dictionary is fascinating to read. You can pick it up and flip it open and start reading, a good dictionary. Too many of the desk dictionaries are so edited down that there is no life to the language or life to words. If you get a, a good desk dictionary that, that gets into the backgrounds of the words and, and the words in context, words are fascinating and fun and language comes alive on the page. And in writing the thesaurus, you get into the, the shades of meaning, the nuances, and, and the power of words, and the images that they can, they can create in your mind.
LAMB:What are the best dictionaries?
LUTZ: Well, there's, the unabridged is, is the dictionary you always want of reference.
LAMB:What, what does that mean, unabridged?
LUTZ: Unabridged means absolutely everything is in there. They have edited out nothing, every definition, every meaning of the word, every example, which is why the unabridged is about that thick. The...a good... All the dictionaries that we deal with are abridged, which means that they take out a lot of the specialized words and, and try to boil down to a core of words that are every day usage, and then they'll cut back even the meanings of the words. Even in a Thesaurus a word like fix, a verb fix, can have up to 28 different meanings, but you normally don't list all 28, you, you maybe pick 14 or 12 of common usage, so, …
LAMB:What's the difference between a dictionary and a Thesaurus?
LUTZ: A dictionary gives you the meanings of the words, all the meanings and a strict definition for each one. A Thesaurus gives you synonyms for the words, so if you want to look up, the adjective busy, you want synonyms for that word, words that say the same thing, but not quite, shades of meaning. One of the phrases I gave was in conference.
LAMB:I just had an experience a couple weeks ago where somebody saw one of these shows and criticized me for using a word incorrectly, and I think the word was parochial, and I was referring to something that was, you know, special for a small group, parochial, and she said that's, you're just not using it, the word is provincial, so I trotted off to my dictionary, and found out that I was right, and so was she.
LUTZ: Yes, yes.
LAMB:So how do you, how, who writes these things and, I mean, who writes the dictionary in the first place?
LUTZ: Lexicographers write it. "The World Dictionary" is produced in Cleveland. If you go to Cleveland, Ohio, you will find in a building downtown, that there is a floor that Simon and Schuster has for their dictionary staff, and there's a group of people who sit around and they read. They read magazines, newspapers and they look for words, and new meanings of words, and these are pulled out and entered into the computer, and that's, that's what you, you see....
LAMB:And what company is, it's Simon and Schuster, who, what's the name on that dictionary?
LUTZ: "Webster's New World Dictionary".
LUTZ: They're working on an unabridged. The unabridged, I'm not sure when the next date is coming out. They have a huge collection of new meanings and new words and whenever they pick those out, they have to take the sentence in which it was used, what's called the citation, so that the meaning is perfectly clear in that sentence for that shade of meaning. One, one of the things that I did in my book, I learned from them. All of my examples of double-speak are not only real, but I have the original context in which the phrase occurred or I won't use it, so I have file drawers filled with clippings and memos and letters that have been sent to me, in which the word is used in context so that I can see that the example of double-speak is real, it's serious and how it is used, and that's the only way that I will accept an example.
LAMB:I'll get off this dictionary in a second, but this is interesting. How many people are involved in, in producing the "Webster's Unabridged Dictionary"?
LUTZ: Oh gosh, there's a lot of people. This is a big undertaking. You'll have,-- I met, the senior editorial staff that I met consisted of eight people. These are the senior editors, and below them will be all kinds of other editors and, and citation checkers and any number of people. You're talking a lot of people to do this.
LAMB:Did, I suppose it sells, millions of copies or?
LUTZ: Well, it will sell over, you know a period of the life of the book, will be 20, 30, 40 years and then periodically updating it as they go along, but it is labor intensive. Computers have really helped. They used to keep all these citations on index cards, by the way, in boxes. Now of course, they can keep it on a computer data base and pull things together. "The Random House Dictionary" was the first dictionary produced by computer when they brought out "The Random House Desk Dictionary", that was the first.
LAMB:Webster's, Random House, other names.
LUTZ: Let's see, there's Webster's, Random House, and New American Heritage. Those are probably the three best dictionaries. Oh, then there's the Webster's Seventh, Collegiate Dictionary.
LAMB:What's that mean? The seventh edition?
LUTZ: The seventh edition. Now they're up to the ninth edition or something. That's Webster's, whatever number they use.
LAMB:What about overseas, Oxford, do they have a dictionary?
LUTZ: Well, there's the "Oxford English Dictionary", which is the ultimate dictionary in the world, that's just a joy and a delight to read. It's, it traces the entire history of a word, from it's first occurrence in English all the way through, giving you the dates, the source and the citation. You can look up a word and find it, it's entire history. If you go to the OED, as it's called, you can look up the word nun and nunnery, and you will understand why, when Hamlet turns to Ophelia(?) and says, "Get thee to a nunnery." She runs off the stage in tears. If you go the OED and look up the meaning for nunnery at the time, of Hamlet when the play was written, you will find out that it meant, brothel.
LAMB:“Doublespeak” is your book and you say it's in it's fourth printing. Who, I mean, do you want this to change anything, this specific book, and have you seen any evidence that, you know, besides the journalists and the call-in shows and all that kind of stuff, that somebody is taking this book and using it to change things?
LUTZ: Boy, what a great question to ask. I just got a clipping, a newspaper clipping,, in which there is a letter to the editor quoting my book, to support the argument that the person is making about deceptive language, so as my mother said when she sent me this clipping, she ran across it and she said, "Somebody bought your book and read it, it seems." I would hope that I will change things by, I've produced what I like to think of as handbook for survival in the 20th century, in the, age of the media, so that people will become critical consumers of language. You know, we talk about the consumer movement where you have to be aware of the product that you buy when you go and purchase something, you have to be aware of the language that's used in our society. You are just as much, as much a consumer of language as you are a consumer of goods, and so you have to be a critical consumer of language, just as you're a critical shopper. And, if you run across language that's defective, take it back, just like you take back the defective toaster, and say, "I want an exchange on this one, give me language that works, give me clear language".
LAMB:In your acknowledgments, something popped out of the page, "I would like to thank the gracious women of the Four Arts Club of Elkhart, Indiana, who listened to an early version of chapter two and laughed at all the right places."
LAMB:Tell us more.
LUTZ: I had been interviewed on the "Today Show", and a woman called me up from Elkhart, Indiana, and said that they had this club and they would love to have me come and talk, and I said I'm really too busy, but they were, so nice I finally gave in, and, and went and had an absolutely wonderful time. The Four Arts Club in Elkhart, Indiana, by the way, is very impressive. It's a very large group of women who are dedicated to the arts. They have their own arts center and they work very hard at supporting the arts and do a very, very good job of it. And I was their luncheon speaker. And I was in the midst of writing this book and I had no idea of, of my audience, who was reading this and would be responding to this, and that's very difficult, so I took along chapter two and I read a chunk of chapter two as my talk, and I apologized. I said, "I should probably give you a prepared talk of a particular kind, but I would like to read this." And they did indeed laugh, and then afterwards, as, as part of the luncheon, there is a reception line where I, I met each one of them, and they each thanked me for coming and the, the audience was 200-300 people, by the way. But they were so wonderful in, in telling me what they thought of what I had just read from this manuscript, what they liked about it, what they didn't like about it. So, I was really gracious to them.
LAMB:Here's what chapter two is all about, "therapeutic misadventures, the economically non-affluent and deep-chilled chickens, the double-speak of everyday life, everyday living."...Excuse me, what, what is a therapeutic misadventure?
LUTZ: I will tell you the incident and then you can figure it out. In 1982, during a cesarean operation, the anesthetist turned the wrong knob and killed the mother and child. The hospital called this, "A therapeutic misadventure".Three weeks ago in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times, in a series of incidents that the pathologist called, "Incredible stupidity and incompetence, the surgeons killed the patient," it included slitting the patient's throat during surgery. This was called "A therapeutic misadventure".
LAMB:How about economically non-affluent?
LUTZ: That's what the president of the City University of New York called poor students attending the City University. They came from economically non affluent families.
LAMB:Deep chilled chickens.
LUTZ: Frank Perdue filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture that his competitors were selling frozen chickens as fresh, and the Department of Agriculture investigated and said, "No, granted the chickens are packed in ice at a temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit, these are not frozen chickens, these are merely deep chilled chickens and can therefore be sold as fresh". I suggested that we pack the same Department of Agriculture bureaucrats in ice. When they hit 28 degrees, we might ask them if they are deep chilled or frozen.
LAMB:You point out that there may be as many as one billion people in the world that speak English.
LUTZ: Yes. That's the, the estimate is 750 million to 1 billion who speak English as a first or second language.
LUTZ: It's become well, it's simply from both the British empire and then we replaced the, the British as the dominant economic and political force in the world and it's natural in history that that nation which has the greatest political and economic influence, that language is adopted by all people in the world. Rome had the same function, Latin, functioned the same way, and so if you saw the story of English, that, McNeil(?) did, Robert McNeil(?) did, he has the great episode where he goes to the shipyard in Singapore, and you have a ship building yard in Singapore, where the, the people ordering the ships are from Japan, the Japanese. The workers are Singapore natives. The financing is coming from Hong Kong and somebody else is ah, from the United States, has an interest in it, they all speak English, every one. It's the one language that they can all share, so they don't have to worry about other languages. So it's become the, what's called by linguists, the lingua franca(?), the language of trade and commerce in the world.
LAMB:I'm just sitting here trying to total it up. You got 250 million Americans, 58 million Brits, 17 million Australians, 26 million Canadians. Do all the Indians in India speak English?
LUTZ: A great number of Indians speak English, a great number of people in China, Japan, you can go to particularly the Far East and the Near East, and find a lot of people, go to Greece. One of the television channels in Greece is all English, it's broadcast in English.
LAMB:What about the Soviet Union?
LUTZ: Oh, a large number too, in the Soviet Union, when I taught in China for a while and my students were all, they not only spoke English, they were learning to, to write proficiently in English, that they would have a mastery of the written language, which is extremely difficult when you learn a foreign language, and for them, becoming very proficient in English was important for their economic success. One of my students had as his goal to be a high-level government translator, for example. At the very least they could be tourist guides and, and have other functions, but being proficient, and English wasn't their only language, by the way, they had to know at least two, most of my students were proficient in English and Russian. But for them English was extremely important and many of them wanted to be able to study in England or America or a similar country and proficiency in English would allow them to do that.
LAMB:Did you ever, did you ever study another language?
LUTZ: Oh yes., my minors as an undergraduate were Latin and Greek, and then I also learned some German as a reading language for my doctorate.
LAMB:Is English easy or difficult?
LUTZ: As a linguist, no language is any easier or more difficult than any other language, a linguist will tell you. As a practical matter, in pronunciation, after you reach a certain age and maturity, you will never be able to speak a language like a native speaker, because your, your, your physical properties of producing speech will evolve in such a way that you can't produce certain sounds as accurately as a native speaker.
It's, it's simply a physiological fact of life, but you can still learn that language. What you really learn when you learn a language, and this is why you should learn a foreign language, you learn a whole different way of looking at the world. It, it, it's tied in with doublespeak. Language is a way of perceiving reality. It's the only way we have of looking out there, seeing something and turning to another person and saying, "This is what I see." Now we can both look out there and you can say, "I see a predawn vertical insertion." And I can say, "Gee, I see an invasion." But it's through language that we talk about this reality and we give some kind of means of expressing that reality.
When you learn a foreign language, you will learn a slightly different way of looking at the world, and interpreting that world. Chinese is fascinating because Chinese, it's so different from English, the Chinese don't have pronouns. They don't have gender in their pronouns. It is impossible in Chinese to say, "Well my son, he is going." They just don't have that. They don't have is going, what we call the present progressive tense, it does not exist in Chinese. The, verb tense becomes different. A number become different.
In English is we have singular and plural and we never even think of that. plural is defined as two or more. In many languages plural is three or more. There is singer, single, dual, meaning just two, and then plural, which is three or more. It's a different way of seeing things and dealing with things, which is why it's always interesting to learn another language. Although I do think at times that doublespeak is in a different language, but it probably doesn't qualify as a foreign language.
LAMB:At the beginning, again at the preface, you quote George Orwell, and the reason I mention this is because you, in the appendix, give the list of recipients of the George Orwell Award for “Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language”. We'll talk about that in a second. George Orwell, from "Politics in the English Language" in 1946, "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way." Orwell is throughout this entire book. Why did you pick him?
LUTZ: Well, Orwell in these two works his essay, "Politics in the English Language", and then, really giving full blown thought to that essay in his novel "1984", addressed the importance of language in society and the control and manipulation of language to control and direct society. I think the most important point in "1984" is that power grows, not out of the barrel of a gun, power grows not out of the thought police and rule by terror, it grows out of the power of language, in that novel. The revolutionary act committed by Winston Smith, right at the beginning of that novel, is to keep a diary. In keeping a diary, any person who keeps a diary uses language to communicate with the self. You're talking to yourself and you're thinking through words about the world around you and about how you feel. That's why a diary is such a revolutionary act, in "1984". Because you are re asserting personal control over language. Then at the end of the novel, to parallel that scene, when Winston Smith has been found out and O'Brien(?), his torturer and guide, says to him, "What is reality...? Reality is not external, reality exists not in the mind of the individual, which soon perishes, but in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. What the party says is reality, is real". And how else can the Party do that except by language. The Party has taken control of language and has taken it away from the individual, and that's the power because those in power who control language, control the way we see the world.
LAMB:Let's talk about political parties just for a second. Let, let me name three for you and, and tell me which one is the worst abuser of double-speak. The Communist party, the Democratic party or the Republican party, in history.
LUTZ: I would say, I'd give them all three, they're right in there by the nature of, of politics. I would say that the Communist party, would be leading the other two simply because, under the time of Stalin and others, language was used to justify, you know, mass murder, the murder of millions of people, exactly the same as the Nazis did, you know, use, use language to justify murder. But, as we see, any, any politician in power starts using double-speak. The Democrats did. I love Jimmy Carter's comment on the failed raid to free the hostages in Iran. He called it, "An incomplete success." He did that without even thinking about it, he, he was just automatically using that kind of language. But we had used language in Vietnam to justify our actions in Vietnam, the Republican party, once attaining power, has used doublespeak to justify and explain and silence their critics, but I don't see that as being different from any other politician. what Orwell says in “Politics in the English Language” is, "It is clear that the corruption of language has, ultimately has political and economic causes."
LAMB:Who are your favorite people in the world that, that have used language over the years, that you, you think use less double-speak than a lot of the others that are in this book?
LUTZ: I'm not sure about less doublespeak. I think, more people who were aware of the power of language and how to use it, and use it effectively, or maybe I should ask you, who are the straight shooters, who are the people that you say really give it to us straight?
LUTZ: It hits you between the eyes? Boy that's a tough question because the closest I could come would be right now, Colin Powell for his, his explanation of the of the war, my term, in, in Panama for there have been a few politicians who have been quite blunt. Senator Moynihan can, when he chooses to be. He can also use double-speak but he can be pretty blunt when he wants to be and pretty forceful. There are a few people in Congress and the House of Representatives, who, when they choose, can be quite blunt
What I find interesting about that use of language...those are people who are very conscious of when it is the ritualistic doublespeak that they are going to use and when they think they can achieve more by using blunt language. So they can turn it on and off. John Kennedy understood the power of rhetoric. This isn't to say that he didn't use doublespeak, which he did, but he understood that language had the power to move us and to inspire us and set a public agenda and define ourselves as a nation and we haven't seen such language in quite a while.
Harry Truman was probably the bluntest speaker we ever had as a president for not caring about the consequences. He would just say it. I think we have looked back on him and said, "Boy, you know, he really was pretty straightforward."
I have a rule about Presidents and presidential speeches...I do not watch them when they are given. I read the text of the speech first, then I watch the speech, so that I am not influenced by all of the visual trappings that go with the speech. And if you look at the words in the page, you will get a quite different message, quite often than the message that you will get from the visual image. I did that with Oliver North's testimony, which comes across quite different than the printed page.Harry Truman's comments now seem blunter than ever when read on the printed page. Richard Nixon doesn't seem quite as flat on the printed page as he was in life because I think his persona overshadowed his words, and at times, his language isn't as duplicitous as some people thought it was in some instances, although he was capable, as we saw during Watergate of using a lot of doublespeak, so there is always some mixture of language because anyone who reaches any position of power, must either instinctively or knowingly, know how to use doublespeak and know how to use it at a certain time and when to turn it on and off and to what degree.
You can simply track that in anyone's rise to power. I am trying to think of the great Spencer Tracy movie. It is a classic film, where he is running for President. He is the ordinary man who gets caught up in the presidential race and he becomes a national hero, and one of the things that they do in the movie is show that as he moves closer to getting the nomination, he starts using more and more of what we would call doublespeak, until finally there comes a scene at the end of the movie when he gets so disgusted in what he has become, that he quits the race...even though he has, by this point, become a "shoe-in" for the nomination, if not the election, he just quits it. But the movie has traced the compromises that he makes through language in order to achieve it and I think that the American public believes that...that in order to get that far, you have to sell off so much that there is not much left at the other end and that is reflected in the language that you use.
LAMB:When you write, where do you write?
LUTZ: I am fortunate to have my own little study...I have one...I am one side of the hall, my wife is on the other side doing her next novel and I have a computer and sit and...and write...trying to do as much as I can. I have a rule about writing, which I discovered when I wrote my dissertation, that you never write a book, you write three pages, or your write five pages...I put off writing my dissertation for a year because I could not think of writing this whole thing...Then I discovered that you don't write three pages and I had put off doing this book for quite a while and my wife said, "You've got to do the book." And I said, "Yes, I am going to, just as soon as I..." and of course I did ever other thing I could possibly think of before that...and then I realized one day that she was right, I had to start writing, but I was thinking of writing a book...Every time I start a book I go through this. So one day I sit down and say, "I am going to write five pages...that's all...And when I am done with five pages I'll reward myself." So I do the five pages, or the next time I will do ten pages, or what ever number of pages, but I set a number of pages and after a period of time you have a manuscript.
LAMB:Do you write a lot at one time?
LUTZ: It depends. When I was writing that book, I came down stairs and said, "Gee, I just did 28 pages..." which is a phenomenal amount of writing. But I had hit a section where it just really flowed and I always begin a writing session by sitting down and re-writing what I wrote the previous day and that is the first thing, and it does two things. First of all, it makes your writing a little bit better, because re-writing is the essential part of writing and the second thing is to get you flowing again, get back into the mainstream. Truman Capote once gave the best piece of advice for writers ever given. He said, "Never pump the well dry, always leave a bucket there." So, I would never stop writing when I ran out of ideas. I always stopped when I had something more to write about and I would write a note to myself, "This is what I am going to do next." and then I would stop. The worst feeling in the world is to have written yourself dry and having to come back the next day, knowing that you are dry and not knowing where you are going to pick up at this point.
LAMB:Do you write at home?
LAMB:All the time?
LAMB:...And where is home?
LUTZ: It is in a little town called Hadden (?) township, New Jersey, which is right outside of Philadelphia.
LAMB:Is there a certain environment...late evening, early morning, dark room, all of those things that make it easier for you?
LUTZ: There is an environment...that's true...I once wrote an essay on this, by the way. I was asked to contribute to a book called, "How I Write". And they asked a group of writers to describe it. And in writing about how I write, the first time I ever thought about it, I realized that there is a ritual that I engage in writing and I think that every writer does...you have to have a certain environment. I like my office...and it has to be...and it has to be clean. When it gets too messy I can't write, so I will spend a day cleaning it up and then, generally, I have to start either in the morning or in the evening, one or the other. The middle of the day seems to be a bad time for me. I will waste a lot of time in the middle of the day. But I can write late at night or I can write early in the morning. Get up and get started. My wife writes very late at night. I mean, she is the person who says, "It's 2:00, it is time to start writing." And she can write from 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., it is absolutely amazing.
LAMB:How did you two get together?
LUTZ: When she published, she had been a graduate student in the English Department when I was Chairman and after she published her first novel, she had given me a copy and I was a former graduate who had gone on to success and quite proud, and so I asked her out to dinner...and a few years later we were married.
LAMB:Two writers together...does it work?
LUTZ: She says that it doesn't. She said, "Why did I ever marry a writer?" "I know I should have never married a writer." Because she is a novelist and she creates...you know...and the creative process of writing a novel is quite different from writing non-fiction. I have learned an awful lot about writing. I have learned an awful lot about literature from her, from watching her write and watching the creative process at work. And when she goes to writing conferences and some times I go with her...and there are other writers, novelists there talking and they all talk the same way...to watch a novelist write a novel is tremendously impressive. I don't think I have ever appreciated as much the creative act as that. To create a world, to create people that are real, in a novel, and these people...as she explains to me and to her students in her creative writing classes...What you see in a novel is about 1/10th of what the novelist knows about these people and this world. She could tell you absolutely everything there is to know about these characters. Where they went to school. What their favorite foods are. That may never been in the novel, but she has to know these people that well, in order to write about them in a novel and a novelist knows that. And so, a lot of her writing will be...she has a couch in her office and she will just be lying on the couch...two to three hours. There is this gestation period going on of these people coming to life and then she will write for a while and then she will go back to thinking. And to watch this process...boy, that is a piece of cake for me to write. This is nothing and I wouldn't want to be a novelist for anything. There is too much pain and suffering and just damn hard work in writing a novel.
LAMB:In the liner notes it says, "Bill Lutz is the 1990 George Orwell."--Larry King. Which Larry King is that?
LUTZ: That is the Larry King, I was on his show twice and we had a lot of fun in doing the book and when the book came out, I had sent him a copy and he was kind enough to give me that blurb...But in the first time that I was on his show, we spent two hours going through "Doublespeak" with people calling in about it...he really enjoyed it.
LAMB:The reason I ask, is that...I want you to go back to the George Orwell thing because we want to talk a little bit about the awards in the time that we have remaining...Who was George Orwell?
LUTZ: George Orwell was a British essayist, reviewer, critic, novelist, who published the now classic novel, "1984." In 1947, he published, "The Politics of the English Language", an essay, which, by the way, is the most reprinted essay in the English language. It is just endlessly reprinted, in which he warned about the corruption through language. The examples that he used all came from Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. He had, during the Second World War, served in the British Ministry of Propaganda or Information and was introduced to the inside of the propaganda process and he wrote "1984" as a novel of the future in which given the growth of the power of communications and the sophisticated use of language, totalitarian governments would base their power upon the control of minds through language and he really believed that.
LAMB:When did he die?
LUTZ: He died in 1948 of...of lung disease.
LAMB:Do you think he would have...if he had lived, he would have been surprised about two things... one--The popularity of "1984" as a novel and two--What actually happened in those totalitarian governments in 1989?
LUTZ: Oh,...by both of those... First of all, there is a whole discussion over why this novel became so popular. It was originally titled, by the way..."The Last Man in Europe", and it got the title of "1984" by flipping the last two digits of '48...oh, by the way, he died in '49, because he died right after the novel came out. The novel did only modestly well. After he died, however, it got tremendously popular. He also published, "Animal Farm", that classic which was soundly denounced by the Communist Party and also got a lot of press. But it was not until after his death that the novel became as popular as it was. In 1984, that novel sold 50,000 copies a week in the United States.
LUTZ: In 1984, in the year of 1984.
LAMB:Did the fact that the novel existed or exists, have any impact on making sure that it really didn't happen?
LUTZ: Well, during 1984, there were, of course, a flurry of conferences and discussions about, you know...Has the world of "1984" come to pass? And of course, there were people who said, "No, we haven't." And then on the other hand, people said, "Yes, it has." That is a judgement call. I think that in some ways, it is far worse than the world that Orwell envisioned, on the other hand it is not as bad as he envisioned. The events in Eastern Europe show us that it is becoming almost impossible to control the information environment as tightly as Orwell envisioned it. The only country I can think of that can do that now is North Korea. They are the only one...they are hermetically sealed from the rest of the world...Romania is trying to be hermetically sealed and I don't know how successful they will be. But as the Chinese Government found out, the existence of telephones and fax machines and personal computers, simply makes it impossible to control language and therefore ideas, in the way that Orwell saw it in "1984". But I think that what governments have done is that they have just gone a step beyond that. They will let the information flow...they will just try and control the content of flow of information.
LAMB:Now...The George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honest and Clarity in Public Language...Donald Bartlett or Barlett and James Steel (?) reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer in '88?
LUTZ: Yes...Oh, in '88 it was Edward Herman (?), professor of finance at the...that was '88...
LAMB:That was 88.
LUTZ: They did a series of articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the tax reform bill, showing that through false, deceptive language, that was inserted into the bill, that billions of dollars in special tax breaks were given away to individuals and companies and corporations and it was all done through deceptive language that no one knew...understood the language...it was written in such a way that applied only to one individual. Great example, One business was defined as a family farm in that bill, thereby giving them the special tax break for farmers. That business employs 25,000 people and has a gross income of over 1.5 billion dollars a year. The tax bill called them a family farm.
LAMB:'87 was Norm Chompsky for "On Power and Ideology", '86 was Neil Postman "Amusing Ourselves to Death", '85 was Torbun Verdergard and Kim Schroeder...?
LUTZ: Yeah... They are two Danish professors.
LAMB:And one more...'84 was Ted Koppel, moderator of ABC's television program, "Nightline"...In general, who gives the George Orwell Award and what is usually the reason?
LUTZ: Well, the committee on Public Doublespeak are the National Council of the Teachers of English. We take nominations from anybody who wants to give us nominations. We vote. We have 35 members on the committee...they are all teachers of English. We have one statistician and one philosopher on the committee and we vote. What we look for is someone who has contributed to clarity in language and public discourse..."Nightline", I think is a good example. Ted Koppel, I think, is famous for saying, "What a minute here, can we back up and explain that one for a minute?". He is very good at doing that and we think that that contributes to clarity and discourse.
We gave it to Bartlett and Steel because of revealing that intricacies of that tax law were needlessly done and that the language was deliberately opaque to give special tax breaks to a lot of people in corporations, tens of billions of dollars worth. We think that's important, that people know about that this language is being used to take money out of their pockets, because someone is going to have to make up for that missing tax revenue, so we are looking for people who contribute to honesty and language, clarity and language, that way.
LAMB:Okay...the recipients of the "Doublespeak" Award...the same group give out...?
LUTZ: Yes, the same group...We vote each year and from the nominations that we receive and we try to give the award to...as a symbolic award to an American public figure who has used double-speak that has consequences of some kind, on public policy or public issue. In 1989 we gave it to Exxon Corporation for calling the 35 miles of shore line in Alaska, "environmentally clean." When reporters pointed out that there was still oil all over the place, an Exxon spokesman said, "Well, clean doesn't mean that every oil stain is off of every rock, it means the natural inhabitants can live there."
LAMB:Let me go quickly through the list, through the 80s. '80 was Ronald Reagan, '81 was Alexander Haag, '82 was Republican National Committee, '83 Ronald Reagan, '84 Department of State, '85 the CIA, '86 NASA, '87 Lt. Colonel Oliver North, '88 Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Admiral William Krout and William Fogerty... A political question to you...If someone read that list, they would think possibly that this is a one sided award to only one side of the political spectrum.
LUTZ: Well, for this reason, the Republican party has been in power for eight years, and so, you know...when Jimmy Carter was in, he got it and so, we...these are the people who have the power to affect public policy through their language. As I point out, Democrats don't get quoted too much these days, they are not in power. If they get in power, they will be right in there in the list with everybody else. We decided Dukakis during his campaign for his double-speak, which he used, and if he had been elected President, he would be in the running along with everyone else.
LAMB:Either the Republican or Democratic party better than the other when it comes to double-speak?
LUTZ: No, they both use it. It seems to go with the territory. Our point is, that as Orwell said, "It is political language," and political language tends...in the twentieth century...to be this kind of misleading and deceptive language, whether it's Johnson...by the way, the legacy from the Johnson Administration was the language of Vietnam and the language of the Poverty Program which stopped calling people poor and started calling then disadvantaged and stopped talking about slums and ghettos but the inner city. That is a heritage of double-speak from the Johnson Administration.
LAMB:Let me go back to when we started this conversation, I asked you, I think in the beginning...Is this done on purpose and with calculation? And you said, "Yes."
LUTZ: Yes. In fact, I sited a couple of incidents in the book where I can document it was done. One is revenue enhancement. They had a meeting in the office of Management and Budget. They said, "We need a phrase to replace tax increase."...They came up with, "Revenue Enhancement". When Lawrence Kudlow, the economist was asked why they did that, he said, "Because there is no better way to sell economic policy than the euphemistic route." He was quite proud of the fact that they came up with that phrase and, "Peace Keeper," as the name of the MX Missile.
Robert McFarland chaired the committee meeting in which he facetiously suggested that the couldn't name it, "Widow Maker", could they...so instead they came up with "Peace Maker". But later, President Reagan misread his cue cards and said, "Peace Keeper," and since it was a televised speech, it became the, "Peace Keeper", and it was a name that was deliberately designed to make a nuclear missile sound nice.
LAMB:Does it work?
LUTZ: Yes, of course it works.
LAMB:I mean, most people don't hear it?
LUTZ: They will hear some of it but not all of it. One of my favorite examples from this past year is the Resource Development Park that they were going to establish in Kansas City, until the good folks in the neighborhood where they were going to put the park asked, "What is a resource development park?" Do you know what resource development park is? In Kansas City, it is a dump. They were going to put a dump in their neighborhood, until somebody asked what it meant. They deliberately invented that phrase to try and slip a dump into the neighborhood without anyone noticing it until it was too late.
LAMB:We just have a short time left and there are a number of things that our audience may be interested in. I have got, here in my hand, "The Quarterly Review of Doublespeak". Is there an organization that you can join if you want to get into this. You do not have to join, you can just subscribe to that, in fact, most of the subscribers are civilian public and not even English teachers. It is eight dollars a year, it is subsidized by the National Council of Teachers of English and that is why the cost is so low. Where do you get it?
LUTZ: You can simply write to the "Quarterly Review of Double-Speak" in Urbana, Illinois...
LAMB:I have 1111 Kenyan Road, Urbana, Illinois, 61801--National Council of Teachers of English and eight dollars. And you are a subscriber...?
LUTZ: And you're a subscriber.
LAMB:And what will you get out of this?
LUTZ: I edit it. You will get all the latest examples of double-speak that are sent to me which I put in there, articles on double-speak, book reviews on books of interest, cartoons, short pieces on what is the latest in advertising double-speak and I try to make it fun and funny, and interesting and entertaining at the same time. We also learn things like how to read public opinion polls so that you are not mislead by the results.
LAMB:One last question: Your favorite doublespeak word or phrase...?
LUTZ: "The Department of Defense." Which, until 1947 was the "Department of War."
LAMB:The book is called, "Doublespeak", and it is written by William Lutz, published by Harper and Row, in your books stores. Thank you for joining us.
LUTZ: Thank you.
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