New Language for a New Year [Book Review]
Prepare to laugh. Get ready to chuckle. Veteran word wonks Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf have done it again. This time, “It” is Spinglish…The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language published by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
This is, after all, Presidential Primary Season and the word games are on!
Whether you find yourself wincing, groaning, or letting loose with a giant guffaw, this gem of a book will arm you with keen translations designed to cut through the double-speak, obfuscation, and tricky-tradecraft often a foot (or a mouth?) in politics. And everything else.
But why stop there? Thanks to the funny bones and insights of the authors, you can learn to master some Spinglish of your own. As the book’s subtitle explains: Find out “How To Succeed in Business and Politics and Everything Else Without Really Lying.”
For these two nimble veterans of the National Lampoon, “looking it up” and/or “making it up” are part of the same whole: figuring out what was really said, minus the window dressing. So deft is the disambiguation, the book has already won what its cover heralds as “The Bullitzer Prize” in Fiction and Nonfiction. Do you detect the aroma of recently eaten hay (or, as the fertilizer industry insists on calling it, “dairy nutrients”)?
This is no one-way research manual. Verbal agility is at work here. Section One translates Spinglish into plain language more easily understood: e.g., “downsizing” becomes “massive layoffs; “revenue enhancement” translates to “tax increase.” (Now that we can understand!) Section Two reverses the order, translating from plain speak to spin-speak. A “TV rerun” becomes an “encore presentation” and “gun control” becomes “victim disarmament.”
In a rich section of “Notes” following the dictionary entries, Beard and Cerf dutifully doff their caps to a wide and intriguing group of sources. These range from the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak (published by the National Council of Teachers of English in Urbana, Illinois), to quotes from former Vice President Dick Cheney, one-time Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, scandal-ridden New York politician Anthony Weiner, and comedian George Carlin (to name just a few). The net was cast wide also scooping up material from newspapers (Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and more), to the military, National Public Radio, The National Rifle Association, Rush Limbaugh, medical associations and even undertakers (who apparently prefer to call themselves “after-death care providers”).
Everyone’s ox is gored with good intentions, … or not; some more deeply than others. The net result is a subtle wink-and-a-smile you can wear like the armor of those really-in-the-know. It won’t stop the verbal slings and arrows, but you’ll be left standing. Is that a smile on your face?
Spinglish excerpts and reviews can be read here.
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T.M. Fern is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, Member of Foreign Correspondents Club, retired CBS News Writer & Producer, Recipient of two Emmy awards (WBBM-TV Chicago), former Business Week Correspondent and a local, national and international Reporter & Field Producer.
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