Equivocation: Are These Folks Really Aware?

Terry Teachout offers some interesting thoughts about the way politicians. publicists, and people for the most part fail to state what’s really on their mind, tying it all in to one of my favorite Orwell essays. I’ll agree that this is a peculiar problem and I’ll be the first to confess that I sometimes fall prey, in an altogether different way, to the manic possibilities of language. Often, something I should probably utter in a sentence is somehow stretched into three. Thus, despite repeat readings, Orwell’s valuable suggestions fail to latch into my noggin.

I would differ slightly with Teachout that these tendencies are “anti-human” or even unknowing. While it is true that politics, office or otherwise, often transform adept conversationalists into utter bores, it is, nevertheless, a very human impulse to seek approval by speaking with a sanctioned tongue. The results may be machine-like and the level of inventiveness may be slim to none — particularly with gerund-happy passive voice. But I think it’s a mistake to underestimate the way that speakers of the Time spokesperson variety, having mastered this dreaded equivocal-speak through careful practice, then go on to speak this way without effort or awareness. That’s the truly frightening thing here.

Which is why I’m happy to raise my hand as a rambler aware of his problem. So should we all. Guilty as charged, m’lord. And I’ve been looking for a twelve-step program for many years where I can weep in front of other elocutionary flunkies and declare that I (and they!) can beat the rap.

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