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Double Speak

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

Users call them polite euphemisms, but detractors call them "spin" or "weasel words". They are used by Corrupt Corporate Executives, Sleazy Politicians, the Amoral Attorney, Obstructive Bureaucrats, insurance salesmen, Weird Trade Unions or spies and The Don, especially for their targets, actions or gathering places like the Totally Not a Criminal Front.

Not an Unusual Euphemism. Subtrope of Double Meaning. Compare Never Say "Die", Deadly Euphemism, Distinction Without a Difference or Super-Fun Happy Thing of Doom. For cases where a character must speak to two different people at once to convey different information, see Multitasked Conversation.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert:
    • Parodied in a 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 by not getting it.
    • In one of the books, Adams extrapolated from the then-current "rightsized" to the future "happysized", "splendidsized", and "orgasmsized".

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

    Film — Animated 
  • Jafar in Aladdin wants the guards to "extend him (Aladdin) an invitation to the palace." Obviously, he means throw him in the dungeon so that Jafar can use him to get the lamp.
  • In the Affably Evil Dr. Facilier's Villain Song in The Princess and the Frog, the good doctor tells Prince Naveen that "hitchin' ties you down. You wanna be free, hop from place to place, but freedom takes green." When he agrees to the doctor's deal, Naveen gets the green he needs to hop around, by being turned into a frog.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 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.
  • 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'.
  • 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.
  • Frank Nitti in The Untouchables (1987) uses the above line to threaten Eliot Ness.

  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • In Christian Nation, Fox News is rebranded as Fox Faith & Freedom News, serving as a Propaganda Machine for the increasingly restrictive new American theocracy.
  • Discworld:
    • For both the Assassin's Guild of the 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 (this was a real euphemism used by sex workers). Of course, that's not a euphemism for the victims, but rather, for the members. That is, the people who perform the service. Said seamstress was hired because some people just don't get euphemisms.
      "They call themselves Seamstresses— a hem, a hem!"
    • Mentioned several times is the original guild of firefighters, disbanded because of their tendencies to stand around people's houses saying things like "looks like a very inflammable 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 Doublespeak, but no, he literally wants no harm to come to Mr. De Worde.
  • Centuries before Orwell, The Faerie Queene says that Ate "double-spake" through her two tongues, never meaning just one thing, but always having two things in her divided mind.
  • Saruman in The Lord of the Rings is a prominent example, and the only one in this particular book. Gimli even lampshades it early on, after hearing him rebuke Théoden.
    Gimli: "In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain."
  • In The Screwtape Letters, the humans that the demons are attempting to damn are referred to as "patients".
  • Sinjir in Star Wars: Aftermath was a Loyalty Officer for the Galactic Empire. His job was actually about weeding out disloyalty, by torturing and killing those alleged to be disloyal, rather than about encouraging actual loyalty.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: All the expeditions that were sent by Earth to Vorlon space disappeared. The Vorlons said that they had met with accidents and suggested they send no more expeditions into their territory.
    • Taken more seriously, and as a Shout-Out to Nineteen Eighty-Four, when Earth enters a particularly fascistic period and institues a Ministry of Peace and a Ministry of Truth. They also have a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of the Nazi SA in their "Night Watch", who arrest and dissappear innocents for not showing proper loyalty.
  • Game of Thrones: "I haven't shown you the hospitality you deserve. My king has married and I owe my new queen a wedding gift."
  • In Sons of Anarchy, the characters refer to murder as "meeting Mr. Mayhem."
  • 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.

  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Daigo plans to use his vampiric superpower to mutate someone into a lizard monster. Devin then suggests driving around to the lower-class neighbourhood and grabbing a poor person to be their test subject. When he's criticised for 'using' poor people, he rephrases it as 'offering them an alternative' to their difficult life.

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

    Video Games 
  • In general, most games with Bribing Your Way to Victory elements attempt to hide and downplay it by using 'premium' currency - which is technically an in-game item, but it cannot be obtained in any other way other than spending money, so it's functionally the same thing. Some Gacha Games (such as Genshin Impact) also use the term 'Top-Up' instead of 'Buying' Premium currency to downplay the fact you're spending real money on virtual currency.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, the Morag Tong is a legal assassin's guild which is sanctioned by the Dunmeri government as an alternative to destructive Allowed Internal Wars between the Great Houses which weaken the Dunmer overall. As such, the Morag Tong insists that they do not commit "murders" or even "assassinations", they perform Honorable Executions. However, given that they are the high-class, honorable Professional Killers in contrast to the gangly, thuggish Cammona Tong and the treacherous Dark Brotherhood, they do manage to keep a higher moral ground (and technically, the Morag Tong do not usually "murder" — they're legally allowed to pursue their Writs of Execution, as a flip side to the strict restrictions on who and when writs can be granted for, though they do sometimes dabble in illegal writs known as "Gray Writs").
    • 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 that the word "Intermediate" implies it could be worse.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • In Terinu, the Varn Dominion, which conquered Earth 500 years previously in the comic's backstory, employed the "Department of Social Harmony" as its propaganda and secret police division among its population of servitors.

    Western Animation 
  • The Bugs Bunny cartoon "Slick Hare" and the Heckle and Jeckle cartoon "Flying South" each play the "having you for dinner" invite only for it to mean they're the dinner.
  • 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied 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 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!

    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.
    • 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, and it also has implications for unemployment benefits (for a layoff, unemployment benefits are almost automatic, whereas fired employees will often have to show that, at the very least, they didn't get fired for something egregious). The older equivalent phrases, "termination with prejudice" and "termination without prejudice", dropped out of favor for sounding overly confrontational ("termination with extreme prejudice" is in a different ballpark altogether).
    • 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.
  • Doublespeak 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.
  • The point of Legalese is to reduce the chance of this happening. Unfortunately, it's not that difficult to accidentally omit a key word or phrase that results in rampant Loophole Abuse.
  • At one point, a Canadian newspaper reported on an escaped prisoner; taking this trope perhaps a tad too seriously, the article never used the word 'escape' — instead, the inmate 'voluntarily absented himself'. The article went to great pains to use a variation of that wording whenever 'escape' might have been used.
  • After Donald Trump's inauguration as President, his press secretary Sean Spicer complained that the media had underreported the turnout for the event. Claiming that turnout was actually much higher, he made several assertions that clearly did not gibe with the photographic and video records. Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway explained that Spicer was presenting "alternative facts".
  • A football coach hearing the phrase "has the full support of the board" usually means he is within a losing game or two of being fired.
  • The Oracle at Delphi ran on this, and got filthy rich from it too. They always phrased their prophecies in such a way as to sound positive, so that their clients would send rich gifts to the Oracle, even though a lot of the prophecies were actually of terrible misfortune. For example, King Philip II asked the Oracle if he would conquer Persia. As Persia was weakened by a recent succession dispute, the answer was that Persia could be conquered. But the Oracle also knew that there was a plot on Philip's life. So the answer they sent back was "the bull is garlanded and ready for the slaughter". Philip's royal seal was Zeus enthroned: Zeus's sacred animal was the bull. The bull, or rather the Shedu, was also a symbol of Persia. It was of course Philip's son Alexander who conquered Persia, after (probably) conspiring to murder his father.
  • In the southern U.S., the phrase "bless your heart" can be used as a term of endearment, but it's also mainly used as a polite way of saying "you're a dumbass, but it can't be helped" or "screw off".