American Newspeak

Word Collisions by Wayne Grytting

Vanishing Acts

When the Bush team took office, the Fish and Wildlife Service faced a small dilemma with the content of their Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Web site, which was chock-ful of information showing how disastrous oil drilling would be to wildlife. Fortunately they were able to separate the purely scientific information from mere interpretations of the data. For example, a summary of a Fish and Wildlife Service study (1987) on the impact of oil drilling on wildlife simply vanished. Also "disappeared" were sentences critical of oil drilling like the following: "Increased freezing depths of rivers and lakes as a result of water extraction (for ice road and pad construction and for oil well reinjection), killing overwintering (sic) fish and aquatic invertebrates." Other sections have been "improved," like their description of the need for a network of roads through the wildlife refuge, which changed from "would" be required to a more diplomatic "may likely" be required. This advance in "objectivity" was discovered by an organization called Defenders of Wildlife. (Wired News 3/23/01),1283,42536,00.html

New Wine in Old Wine Bags Dept.

The FBI has a new name for their Internet surveillance software once known as "Carnivore." The software, when connected to an Internet Service Provider's network, allows the FBI to read a suspects e-mail and follow their Web surfing. This somewhat predatory name "carnivore" was found to bring up "unfortunate" images (note that it did not bring up such images for the Bureau officials). FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson said they realized that, "With upgrades come new names." So the FBI put its most creative talents (I presume) to work and came up with a new title -- DCS1000! And what does it mean, you ask? Bresson admits it "doesn't stand for anything." It's just an empty name, as empty as.... (Would you mind completing this simile for me.) (Reuters 2/14/01)

Sons of Star Wars

The Pentagon unveiled a new heat ray gun designed to disperse crowds without harming them permanently. The gun shoots electromagnetic energy able to produce burning sensations, without really burning the targeted bodies. The Pentagon touts it as a perfectly safe form of crowd control (particularly with crowds that include elderly people, children and pregnant women, I would guess). This microwave gun was given a name that destined it for greatness. The Defense Department called it an "active denial system." Surprisingly, that very same phrase -- "active denial system" -- is how many people describe the Pentagon. (NYT 3/2/01)

Growing Pains

Several years ago, Bill Gates had a $109 million house on the shores of Lake Washington opposite Seattle. The housing complex had about 37,000 square feet of living space. Unfortunately, that turned out to be insufficient space for the Gates family and they had to petition the city of Medina for permission to add on new rooms. Of interest here is the rationale for the expansion provided by an unnamed representatives of the Gates', who explained the house had originally been built for a bachelor, but was now occupied by a family who found the house wasn't "fitting as they expected it too." (I warned them when they started building that Bill needed more than just bachelor digs.... but would they listen? What can you do?) (ST 2/28/01)

Silver Spoon Dept.

Citibank launched a crusade to help the children of wealthy parents. In a full-page ad in the New York Times Magazine, Citibank ran a probing interview on "Raising Children of Affluence" with Peter White, the director of their Family Advisory Practice. Mr. White was asked, "Is being born into wealth a burden?" You'll be reassured to know "It doesn't have to be. But it comes with it's own set of complexities." That's why Citibank stands prepared to help affluent clients deal with the problems of offspring who may never have to work. The interview ends with an invitation for readers "To have your own dialogue with Peter, call 212.559.0446." Give him a call. I suggest asking Peter if he'd be willing to donate one coffee break to dialogue on the problems of single mothers living on McDonald's-style wages. That's 212.559.0446.

Special thanks to Doug Honig, Jake Sexton and Steven Bodzin for spotting quality Newspeak. Send in your own examples, join the mailing list or harass the writer by e-mailing More Newspeak inflicted at