In his Wednesday night class two weeks ago, Gary Brown decried a practice in our culture that is sometimes referred to as doublespeak. This term originated in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.
Gary mentioned an example of doublespeak that is well known to anyone who frequents Starbucks. Instead of ordering a small (12 oz), medium (16 oz), or large (24 oz) cup of coffee there, the customer is required to ask for one of three sizes, the names of which all make it sound like you’re ordering a lot of coffee. A tall in Starbucks’ doublespeak is a small. A grande, which means “large” in Italian, is their medium. And a venti, which means “twenty” in Italian, is their large.
It’s obvious to anyone what they’re doing. They don’t want you to think you’re paying that much money for something small, so they call small tall. And medium sounds kind of puny, too, so the marketing gurus used doublespeak to give it a BIG name: grande.
Another good example of doublespeak can be seen in the women’s clothing industry. In a TIME magazine article titled, “One Size Fits None,” the author states, “The rise of so-called vanity sizing has rendered most labels meaningless. As Americans have grown physically larger, brands have shifted their metrics to make shoppers feel skinnier—so much so that a women’s size 12 in 1958 is now a size 6.”
Have you ever opened a large package of over-the-counter medicine and been surprised when a tiny bottle of pills dropped out? What’s up with that? I guess it’s packaging doublespeak.
Have you let doublespeak slip into your conversations?
As Christians, we should always do our best to be honest in our communication with others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples not to take oaths. Instead, he encouraged them to have a reputation of always speaking the truth so that oath-taking would be unnecessary. In Matthew 5:37 he said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Dishonesty is widely practiced by many today, but we still get upset when we catch an elected official in a lie. Why is that? I think it’s because deep down, we all want others to speak the truth to us. As Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”
As Christians, let’s be known as people who speak truth. Don’t let doublespeak creep into your vocabulary. Excuse me now, while I go enjoy a gargantuan glass of iced tea.