Trump's Newspeak

by Matthew Freeman

December 19, 2017

"You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?"

Winston Smith, 1984

Donald Trump has never been known for the breadth of his vocabulary. In his case, I’ve always assumed that was a marker of a not particularly curious mind. The guy’s openly contemptuous of higher education; he says he doesn’t read books because he gets what he needs to know from “watch[ing] the shows.” When speaking, he likes to repeat things, uttering the same short sentence or phrase two or three times in the same breath, presumably for emphasis. And his word choices won’t be adding to anyone’s vocabulary. He uses “very” very often, for example, and “very, very” very frequently, too.

Now we learn that the president and his team want to limit everyone else’s vocabulary, as well, starting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Friday, Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reported:

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

The next day, Sun and Eilperin reported that the word-scrubbing would extend to other divisions of HHS:

A second HHS agency received similar guidance to avoid using “entitlement,” “diversity” and “vulnerable,” according to an official who took part in a briefing earlier in the week. Participants at that agency were also told to use “Obamacare” instead of ACA, or the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces” to describe the venues where people can purchase health insurance.

It’s one thing to have a house writing style and to impose a certain amount of consistency across an entire department. We use serial commas on CPRBlog, for example, and we’re holding out against using “the U.S.” instead of “the United States,” except as a modifier! But as usual, the Trump administration is going to extremes, with the plain goal of denying or obscuring reality.

It’s hard not to think of George Orwell when you read these kinds of stories. In 1984, he wrote about Big Brother’s efforts to shrink the language as a way to diminish the range of possible thought. Oldspeak, with all its complex thoughts, and disturbingly descriptive words, was a danger to the ruling class. Newspeak was lean and limited, perfect for a government intent on rewriting history at will and suppressing "subversive" ideas before they could even be formed in a single mind.

1984 returned to the bestseller list earlier this year, and not for nothing. The president’s hostile relationship with facts, his coterie of liars on the public payroll, his insistence that CNN is making up news rather than reporting it – these are all stepping stones toward Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian future. We’re all so accustomed to the rat-a-tat-tat of the political back and forth that it’s easy not to notice when lines are crossed, even by a president famous for crossing lines.

But let’s take note of this one. This week, the President of the United States tried to shrink our vocabulary by banning the government’s use of seven words that he thinks lead to ideas that inconvenience him.

We may not be in Room 101 yet, but some days it feels like it’s just down the hall.

Tagged as: Banned Words
Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Matthew Freeman

Media relations consultant Matthew Freeman helps coordinate CPR's media outreach efforts and manage its online communications. His media relations experience in Washington spans more than 30 years, and his client list includes a range of organizations active on the environment, education, civil rights and liberties, health care, progressive organizing in the interfaith community, and more.

A Final 2017 Dose of Op-Eds

Freeman | Dec 28, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

Steinzor: Trump's reform won't stop mass incarceration

Freeman | Dec 21, 2017 | Good Government

Trump's Newspeak

Freeman | Dec 19, 2017 | Good Government

An Antidote to Greed

Freeman | Nov 28, 2017 | Good Government

CPR's Latest Op-Eds Take on the Assault on Our Safeguards

Freeman | Oct 16, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015