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Double Speak
"You are a manipulator."
"I like to think of myself more as an outcome engineer."
J.R. Ward, Lover Eternal

Use of polite euphemism, typically by Weird Trade Unions, Corrupt Corporate Executives, Sleazy Politicians, Obstructive Bureaucrats, mafia insurance salesman, or spies, especially for their targets, actions or gathering places like the Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club.

Not an Unusual Euphemism. Subtrope of Double Meaning. Compare Never Say "Die", Deadly Euphemism, or Super Fun Happy Thing of Doom. For the case when a character must speak to two different people at once to convey different information, see Multitasked Conversation.


Examples:

Fanfiction
  • In The Road To Cydonia the secret agency places martial artists in internment camps which they call "Sanctuary Communities".

Film - Animated

Film - Live Action
  • In the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, the assassination firm known as "the Plumbers" uses such phrases as "going to the WC" and "Flushing" to refer to Good Old Murderin'.
    • Similarly, Léon the assassin in The Professional refers to himself as a "cleaner". Mathilda sees right through his words and asks him to teach her to "clean" also.
  • The source of the quote at the top of the page: Frank Nitti in The Untouchables uses the above line to threaten Eliot Ness.
  • Brazil has its dystopian government having an "information retrieval" division. We would call information retrieval Cold-Blooded Torture and the employees of the department Torture Technicians.

Literature
  • 1984 is one of the Ur-Examples. While not actually a Trope Namer— the phrase "Doublespeak" does not appear in the novel, though "doublethink" does (albeit with no relation)—it certainly brought the idea of using euphemisms to a new height. The Ministry of Peace is in charge of war; the Ministry of Truth is in charge of propaganda; the Ministry of Plenty is in charge of rationing; and the Ministry of Love is in charge of maintaining a climate of fear.
  • For both the Assassin's Guild of the Discworld series and the Torturer's Guild of The Book Of The New Sun, victims are referred to as "clients". The Assassin's Guild also refers to contracts as "commissions" (possibly due to their view of their work being artistic in nature). And they prefer to say "inhume" rather than kill. "...It's like exhume... only it's before they bury you."
    • The Seamstresses' Guild in the same Discworld, which only has one actual seamstress. Of course, that's not a euphemism for the victims, but rather, for the members. (That is, the people who perform the service.)
      • "Trousers repaired while you wait," indeed.
      • "They call themselves Seamstresses—a hem, a hem!"
      • Said seamstress was hired because some people just don't get euphemisms.
    • Mentioned several times is the original guild of firefighters, disbanded because of their tendencies to stand around peoples houses saying things like "looks like a very inflamable house there, it'd be shame if something happened to it"
      • Which is almost Real Life, as is often the case with Prattchett: Marcus Licinius Crassus, who created the first Roman fire brigade, had his men start fires so that business was never slow.
    • Subverted in The Truth. Vetinari says he wants no harm to come to Mr. De Worde, and his clerk thinks this is Double Speak, but no, he literally wants no harm to come to Mr. De Worde.
  • In The Screwtape Letters, the humans that the demons are attempting to damn are referred to as "patients".
  • In Animorphs, at the end of the series, the Andalites reveal that every time the kids begged for help, they thought that they were lying to get special attention. Jake gives a little doublespeak-laden speech to the Andalite HQ, telling them to shove it up their asses in the most polite way possible, with Marco giving the translations to what is actually being said in first-person narrative.

Live Action TV
  • Parodied in a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, in which a henchman irritably asks his Diabolical Mastermind boss to speak more clearly, because his 'needlessly ambiguous' instructions, phrased as euphemisms such as 'Take care of Detective Harrison' and 'Let's hope Dr. Professor Rixton meets with an unfortunate accident,' only lead to confusion when his henchmen take him too literally.
    Boss: Oh, and... perhaps you'd like to join me later for... a spot of light refreshment?
    Henchman: (irritably) Do you mean anal sex?
    Boss: Well, yes...
    Henchman: Alright then.
  • Babylon 5: all the expeditions that were sent by Earth to Vorlon space disappeared. The Vorlon said that they had met with accidents and suggested they send no more expeditions into their territory.
  • In Sons of Anarchy, the characters refer to murder as "meeting Mr. Mayhem."

Theater
  • In the Greek play Agamemnon many of Clytemnestra's speeches are filled with double meanings.

Videogames
  • The Maverick Hunters from the Mega Man X games refer to their work as "retiring" the mavericks.
    • Which is extraordinarily likely to be a translator's Shout-Out to the identical euphemism in Blade Runner.
  • The Morag Tong operatives from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind do not commit murders: they perform Honorable Executions. However, given that they are the high-class, honorable assassins in contrast to the gangly, thuggish Cammona Tong and the treacherous Dark Brotherhood, they do manage to keep a higher moral ground.
    • In one quest from Skyrim, a note to a Thalmor interrogator authorizes him to use "Intermediate Manual Uncoiling" on a prisoner. You later get to see exactly what that means. The scariest part of this is the "Intermediate."

Webcomics
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: With the Guides' talk of "a most disfortunate accident" and being "taken right away", Young Annie has to figure out by herself that the boy who "lost his way" is actually dead. One bit of dialogue suggests this deception was unintentional:
    Moddey-Dhoo: One more thing, pup. The boy don't know he has passed on.
    Antimony: Passed on what?
  • As a Corrupt Corporate Executive at a company trying to take over the world, Pierce from Sturgeon's Law is a master at spewing out corporate buzzwords.

Western Animation
  • Parodied in The Simpsons with future president Lisa's "temporary refund adjustment," which Bart inadvertently reveals on national TV to be a tax hike; nobody could figure it out otherwise.
    • Also parodied in a recent Treehouse of Horror episode, where, in a Strangers on a Train parody, Bart and Lisa agree to "prank" each others teachers, and "ding-dong-ditch" them. Of course, by prank, Bart means kill, and by ding-dong-ditch, he means throw the ding-dong in a ditch.
    • In season 18 episode "The mook, the chef, the wife and her Homer" Fat Tony considers hot-syncing his palm pilot. Louie thinks it's doublespeak and shoots the palm pilot.
      Fat Tony: What the hell did you do?
      Louie: I thought you meant ‘hot-sync’ it. You know how it is with us, everything means kill!
  • Kim Possible: When Shego proposes to infiltrate Jack Hench's research facility to "find some free samples", Drakken scoffs that Hench never gives out free anything, then realizes that she actually means stealing something.

Real Life
  • Truth in Television: Corporate speak and military PR jargon are notoriously filled with them. Companies are notoriously terrified of telling people they're fired, leading to a list of euphemisms. Because people quickly catch on to what being "terminated", "laid-off", "downsizing" and all the others actually mean, they have to keep changing them.
    • Parodied in a Dilbert strip where the Pointy-Haired Boss gives some employees the option to be re-purposed, re-organized, or re-assigned. The final panel has Catbert asking him how many people volunteered to be fired without knowing it.
      • In another strip, the PHB tells a worker his job was re-considered, that he was put in the mobility pool, etc. The worker irritates the PHB not getting it.
      • In one of the books, Adams extrapolated from the then-current "rightsized" to the future "happysized", "splendidsized", and "orgasmsized".
      • It's entered the current jargon so well that people draw a distinction between being "fired" and being "laid-off." "Fired" means losing your job because you screwed up, while "laid-off" means losing your job for budget reasons. Immediate results are the samenote , but it's easier to get a new job after being laid-off than after being fired. The older equivalent phrases, "termination with prejudice" and "termination without prejudice" dropped out of favour for sounding overly confrontational ("termination with extreme prejudice" is in a different ballpark all together).
    • A particularly notorious example is the Finnish expression "yt-neuvottelut", short for yhteistoimintaneuvottelut, which means "cooperation negotiations". It sounds innocent and positive, but really it means negotiations about laying people off.
  • Double Speak is used almost every time by people who were responsible for killing or imprisoning a journalist or human rights activist.
  • More Truth in Television from Nazi Germany: Sonderbehandlung, or "special treatment", referring to Jews. Hint: it wasn't anything nice.


Double Meaning TitleDouble MeaningDual Meaning Chorus
Language Of TruthTruth and LiesEmpty Promise
Double MeaningCryptic ConversationFigure It Out Yourself
Double MeaningDialogueDramatic Deadpan

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