View Full Version : The etymology of "spin" (WRT public relations)

Machine Elf
06-22-2011, 03:29 PM
"Spin" has acquired an additional definition in recent decades, referring to the particular emphasis or deemphasis of facts in a story to produce a response deemed favorable by whomever is telling the story.

Or something like that.

So how did "spin" come to be used in this fashion? Is it a reference to the "spin" associated with subatomic quarks, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_(physics)) which drastically alters their behavior? Is it about the "spin" imparted to a cue ball or bowling ball by a player so as to dodge certain obstacles while hitting others?

Something else?

06-22-2011, 03:43 PM
Hard to be certain. Could also have come from golf or tennis. Samclem, I believe, is one poster who is very good at rooting out first or early usages for various mundane contemporary turns of phrase -- I'd be interested in his input.

Meanwhile, just thinking it through: it's not much of a semantic leap to go from "This is damaging information ... how do we turn this around?" to "How do we spin this around?" to "How do we spin this?" This kind of on-the-fly semantic shift is very common in human language.

06-22-2011, 03:45 PM
The OED dates the usage from 1973. It probably derives from the same common source of a ball spinning. It could be from pool/billiards (though the term in that case is "english") or baseball (one of the earliest entries for "spin doctor" indicates this, but it's from the Toronto Globe and Mail, a decade after the term of political spin was first used). I doubt it has anything to do with subatomic physics, since newspapers and politicians are not likely to use something so technical when a more prosaic source is available.

06-22-2011, 03:58 PM
The connection to spin on balls, like in pool, seems obvious to me. In both cases, you're taking a hit from a particular direction (presumably a negative one), and twisting it so that the end result is that your ball, or politician, moves in a direction more to your liking.

06-22-2011, 05:06 PM
Might bowling also be a contender?

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
06-22-2011, 05:14 PM
1968 article (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GGRSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xHsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7195,5080469&dq=verbal+spin&hl=en) using the term 'verbal spin.' My guess would be pool, also.

C K Dexter Haven
06-22-2011, 06:20 PM
See www.word-detective.com and check the Archive. That's the website written by Evan Morris, the Word Detective. Here's the link to his specific column: http://www.word-detective.com/072104.html#spin doctor ... Basically, he ties it to "spin" in cricket (the game, not the insect.)

06-22-2011, 06:44 PM
I could probably spin a good yarn about the origins of this term, but I don't really know...

06-22-2011, 09:18 PM
I've been in public relations for 30 years. I can't tell you where the term "spin" came from, but I can assure you the number of terms appropriated by the industry from the field of subatomic physics is vanishingly small.:)