Unspeak Hardcover – 16 Feb 2006
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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)
* The language of everyday deception stripped bareSee all Product description
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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.
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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