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Unspeak [Hardcover]

Steven Poole
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Feb 2006

Unspeak is language as a weapon. Every day, we are bombarded with those apparently simple words or phrases that actually conceal darker meanings. 'Climate change' is less threatening than 'global warming'; we say 'ethnic cleansing' when we mean mass murder. As we absorb and repeat Unspeak we are accepting the messages that politicians, businessmen and military agencies wish us to believe. Operation Iraqi Freedom did more than put a positive spin on the American war with Iraq; it gave the invasion such a likeable name that the American news networks quickly adopted it as their tagline for reporting on the war. By repackaging the language we use to describe international affairs or domestic politics, Unspeak tries to make controversial issues unspeakable and, therefore, unquestionable.

In this thought-provoking and important book, Steven Poole traces the globalizing wave of modern Unspeak from culture wars to the culture of war and reveals how everyday words are changing the way we think.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (16 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316731005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316731003
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 606,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Poole is the author of Unspeak, Trigger Happy, and You Aren't What You Eat. He was born in London, and writes for various publications including the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement, and Edge. More information at http://stevenpoole.net

Product Description

Review

A study of [UNSPEAK] is not just ttimely and welcome but (you'll feel once you've read this book) urgent. ...we should all be grateful to Steven Poole for his public spiritedness in undertaking it. Will someone please give him a medal, or a government office, or a slot on the radio with daily updates? (Claire Harman, EVENING STANDARD)

Poole has a sharp eye for hidden meanings and sub-texts. His account of politician s' addiction to the word "community" is a tour de force. By emphasising that one should always "look to the language", and going about his task with such forensic brio, Po (Francis Wheen, THE LIBERAL)

Steven Poole is to rhetorial doublespeak what the small boy was to the naked emperor: a pin to prick the speech bubbles (SUNDAY HERALD)

Steven Poole is to rhetorical doublespeak what the small boy was to the naked emperor: a pin to prick the speech bubbles . . . UNSPEAK sets out the case against, and also offers forensic analysis of, some of the most notorious examples he has found... UNSP (SCOTSMAN)

Book Description

* The language of everyday deception stripped bare

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, deadly serious, brilliant 28 Feb 2006
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
When I started reading this book about politicians and their abuse of language, I was so taken by its author's elegant style and mordant, black humour that I didn't notice what a serious piece of work it is. In fact, as becomes increasingly obvious, this book is informed by a huge amount of research and by something close to moral fury. Poole shows that we should all wake up and attend to the words our leaders use in the media, that if we only do this we will see what strange and twisted "unspeak" those words are. If you've ever watched the Daily Show on TV, you will know the regular thing they do where they play a clip - of Cheney or Kerry or whoever - and it cuts back to Jon Stewart, who, just with a look, or a blink, or a raised eyebrow, can suddenly, somehow, make you realise what utter lies you have just been listening to. Its a dazzling technique, and I don't quite know how Stewart does it, but Poole does something very similar with his book, again and again and again. Strongly recommended, and if you like it, you should also read Jon Stewart's book "Democracy", which is also brilliant.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Does it matter what politicians say? Does it matter how they say it? Yes and yes. Poole shows how politicians' language is thick with euphemism - but anybody could do that. What he does brilliantly is look closely at this "euphemism" to see what ideological baggage is being imported along with it, as well as what is not being said and how the alternative view is being unspoken. Politicians should fear this book and journalists should be required to read it.
The book is crisply written without unnecessary muddle, and is charged with relevant facts to support his arguments. After reading it, every time you hear about "ethnic cleansing" your blood will curdle, and every time you read about "abuse" instead of "torture" at Guantanamo Bay you will cringe. And people who complain that it is mostly about the politcal Right Wing are really missing the obvious: first, Poole's arguments are actually pretty balanced, and his arguments can be generalized easily ("Unspeak" itself knows no political categories); second, critiquing the language of the left-wing, in the English-speaking world and especially in the United States, is like stomping on the fingers of a man in a coma.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware those who dilute your language... 14 April 2006
By Dr. P. J. A. Wicks VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
George Orwell underestimated the politicians of the 21st century. In 1984, the blunt tool of "doublethink" used simple opposites; the ministry for war was called "the ministry of love", for instance. But doublethink can easily be translated back into English, you just reverse it.

Unthink is more sophisticated, here the ministry of war is "the ministry of defence". Surely a body tasked with defence can never do anything bad or offensive, because defence is morally justifiable, right? The principle of unspeak is to persuade by stealth, to alter assumptions inherent in the definition of things. Who are you more afraid of: a "suspected terrorist" or a "terrorist suspect"? The former emphasises ambiguity, the suspicion that they might be a terrorist. The latter emphasises the terrorist as the definition with suspicion as an afterthought.

At an even higher level of sophistication though, an unspeaker can play language any way they want. So the proponents of "intelligent design" state that creationism is a theory, and as such has as much validity as evolution. However, in the case of creationism they are elevating it to the status of a theory. In fact, it is no such thing as it is not falsifiable, has no supporting evidence, and has no predictive value. But by defining it as a "theory" they are reflecting in the glow of scientific terminology. In their attacks on "neo-Darwinists", however, they say that evolution is "just" a theory, and here they use theory in the fluffy, not quite sure, kind of sense. It's a cunning trick.

If the examples above turned on any little lights in your head at all, you have to buy this book. Steven Poole has a rare and valuable talent in non-fiction; he writes sentences that makes you say "Yeah!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By M. McManus VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This definitely one of the most interesting books I have read this year.

The book starts with some genuinely insightful and thought provoking analysis of political language. As the chapters progress, this is expanded upon with everything from "anti-social behaviour" to "ethnic cleansing" given a thorough analysis. I found the most interesting section was where he discussed how the military often use medical language (e.g. surgical strike) to describe their missions, and there were genuine moments in the book where you could find yourself saying "Never thought of that before!".

The first five chapters flow well, and whilst the author's political opinion is fairly clear by this stage, this doesn't matter to readers of any political persuasion, as he stays "on task" and keep the chapters focused on the book's title and purpose. Furthermore, these earlier chapters are characterised by an easy going, almost conversational style of writing that is easy to follow and digest.

However, there then follows three consecutive chapters that read more like a bitter rant than an analysis of political linguistic tricks, and this genuinely spoils the book, as the author veers both off course and off topic. There is nothing wrong with him holding his opinions, but this was not what the book was meant to be about. The writers tone also dramatically changes, at times bordering on sarcastic aggression and smugness. The final chapter does slightly rescue this as he returns to the topic, but only slightly.

In conclusion, the book presents some truly intriguing analysis of political language that is very useful to students of politics and social commentators. However, the "rant-a-thon" in the later part of the book takes him off course from the subject matter of the book, and this is what prevents me from giving it full marks.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Charts the contemporary evolution of hypocrisy without actually...
Unspeak is fluid and clearly written current affairs book. You will fly through it's two hundred and fifty pages very quickly. Read more
Published 6 months ago by jcf
5.0 out of 5 stars memorable
I read this book a good few years ago now but felt compelled to find it here on Amazon and leave a quick review. It's absolutely brilliant. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Ashley Hames
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant penetrating analysis of modern propaganda
If all citizens had Steven Poole's mental clarity, intellectual rigour, and intolerance of con-artistry, we would all have better governments and live better lives. Read more
Published on 6 April 2010 by T. D. Welsh
4.0 out of 5 stars Angry words spoken and explained
Mr Poole is an angry man, he has serious issues with a lot of the abuse of language that is being perpetuated by politicians at the moment. Read more
Published on 4 Dec 2007 by Wyvernfriend
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece of critical thought
Author's understanding of the language and the current affairs is nothing less than magisterial - prepare for a tour de force of unmasking euphemisms, lies and propaganda unleashed... Read more
Published on 13 Sep 2007 by Ed
3.0 out of 5 stars An anti-American polemic
The book starts with some interesting analysis of the use of language and how words and phrases are distorted for political ends. Read more
Published on 11 Sep 2007 by Paul Sloane
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant account of our rulers' lies
In this insightful book, journalist Steven Poole shows how our rulers abuse language to promote and disguise war, torture and corporate interests. Read more
Published on 20 Jun 2007 by William Podmore
3.0 out of 5 stars Biased, shaky in places, but still interesting
This is a book about the language of modern political propaganda. Contemporary political debate shrouds itself in utterly impenetrable language. Read more
Published on 20 Feb 2007 by ear9pg
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts off well but dwindles into a usual left wing diatribe
I brought this book because "Unspeak" is killing us intellectually and politically. I thought as I started this is great the Authour has hit the nail right on the head, and he... Read more
Published on 15 Feb 2006 by Marcus Alexander
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