Thursday, October 29, 2009

What did she say?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was interviewed recently on CNBC. The exchange went like this:

Reporter: "But, on the tax issue, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would essentially be a tax increase."

Pelosi: "It isn't a tax increase; it is, it is a..a..ah..eliminating a tax decrease that was there."

(You can watch the exchange at this site:

So, it isn't a tax increase, it is "eliminating a tax decrease that was there"!

Can language confuse and conceal, or what? Are politicians expert at double talk?

Language that uses negatives can work wonders at concealment. Perhaps if we ask Nancy about inflation she will say, "It is not possible to reduce inflationary pressures when the federal government does not reduce its spending." Got that?

Perhaps if asked about government spending she will add, "So long as taxpayers do not refuse to pay their taxes, the government will have no difficulty in paying its debts."

Maybe if she's pressed on a policy issue she will declare, "The lack of disconfirming evidence suggests that the results are not open to dispute, unless the absence of data from other investigations is taken as a negative factor."

These beautifully confusing gems were collected by Joseph Williams, professor emeritus at Chicago University and author of a book that changed my thinking about writing, "Style." This dense little book will help anyone become a better writer who can stay with it.

Some of the sentences come from the wonderful world of academia where communication is meant to impress, not express. If you remember your college days, you'll remember a sentence like this one, "Scientists have not agreed on the question of whether the universe is open or closed, a dispute that will not be resolved until the total mass of the universe has been computed with an error of no more than 5%."

Or, this one, "Sufficient research has not been directed to the problems of individuals who cannot see when there are not normal levels of light."

These sentences all suffer from too many negatives. And, I doubt if their authors consciously knew how to craft them. They likely have an innate sense of how to obfuscate, like Nancy.

So, don't be surprised if in the near future you watch Nancy Pelosi say something like this on You Tube, "Elections in which there is no attempt at dealing with those issues which do not receive adequate attention during the time when no election campaigns are underway cannot serve the functions for which they were intended."


  1. It is impressive how politicians manage to make things complicated no matter where they are from, hehe...

  2. They have come a long way from telling us that a reduction in the increase of spending on a program us a cut.

    Where is that reset button for the government? Oh that's right it is the 2nd ammendement.