Frank Luntz, advocate of Orwellian language

No, really.

I’ve heard of Luntz before in passing–he’s a Republican talking head guy who specializes in helping Republicans choose language. Death tax, not inheritance tax; gaming, not gambling; conservationist, not environmentalist. That sort of thing.

He’s being interviewed right now on Fresh Air (hopefully someone can provide a link to it once it’s on their website). Just a couple exchanges into the interview, he said (and this is slightly paraphrased since I’m giving it from memory:

Bwahahahaha! That has got to be the most self-referencing statement I’ve heard all year.

Anyway, I wanted to share, and unless someone can think of something to debate about this, I figure it goes in the Pit.


I heard that interview on NPR. Unbelievable. I wanted to ask him what he would have called the inheritance tax (which he calls the “death tax” as if it was a tax on dying instead of on an estate) had he been working for the other side. That would have been interesting.

To be fair, I think he was confusing the word “Orwellian” with Orwell’s views on what language would ideally be. “Orwellian” language is language used to obfuscate and decieve. Orwell himself tried to use language as precisely as possible. It’s pretty obvious which side Mr. Luntz falls on.

Yeah, that was one of the many layers of irony: he was saying something interesting, obfuscated by his deliberate use of a word in a misleading fashion. He was using it in that fashion because he’s been accused of using Orwellian language, and he’d like to confuse people about what that means, to deceive them about how others are using the language.


You forgot to mention the one he’s most proud of:

Climate change, instead of global warming. People don’t get as upset when you call it climate change.

I heard him too–I couldn’t believe his take on “gaming” vs “gambling”. He got quite snarky with Terry Gross, but she held her ground. “Gaming” does NOT include the restaurants, salons, spas etc that he claims it does. Then he veered off topic to bring video and computer games into-which evaded Terry’s point re gaming doesn’t mean “entertainment”–it can, but it is more specific.

I had to get out of the car then, so I missed the rest of it. I thought his take on gaming vs gambling was so disingenous that he lost any credence he might have gained from this interview.

How does he sleep at night?–he’s smart enough to know he is deliberately manipulating vocabulary to further an agenda.

I did hear his bit on “surge” and disagreed as well. To me, it does NOT imply numbers at all–it implies a momentous, smooth movement to one end. Tidal surge, stock market surge, the surging water of a flood. What a tool.

Well, “climate change” I find myself having some sympathy for. “Global Warming” is too easy for simplistic-minded idjits to scoff at every time there’s a local cold snap.

It’s a technique called “messaging”. George Lakoff is the Democratic counterpart to Luntz. He schooled Nancy Pellosi and the Democratic caucus on the subject when she called him in after reading Don’t Think of an Elephant. Howard Dean is another of his fans, and messaging made a huge difference (obviously) in their 2006 election campaign. Granted, Republican blunders contributed a great deal too, but it just would have taken a bit longer. Maybe another election cycle.

From the above review:

In Lakoff’s best-seller, a virtual bible among hundreds of House staffers and Democratic groupies, he asserts that political consciousness, and therefore voter choice, is determined by deeply wired mental structures - “frames” - that reflect more general views and values. The suggestion is that reframing American politics according to liberal values is, in essence, a matter of simple wordplay. Where conservatives invoke “strong defense,” Lakoff says liberals must use the reference “stronger America,” Likewise, “smaller government” must be recast as “effective government.” You get the drift.

Is it too much to hope that candidates might have a mastery of language because they are intelligent and educated to use it well? IOW, to speak cogently and clearly?

I know, I know–dream on…

Still, is there any proof that any of this works? For me “gaming” and “gambling” mean the same thing, as do “climate change” and “global warming.” I don’t think the term “Orwellian” is a correct description of this phenomenon, either. Maybe “marketing.” Orwellian, properly speaking, means saying exactly the opposite of what you intend.

Well, some work better than others. And sometimes, they turn on you. “Stay the course”? Not so much.

Gambling, to be precise, is gaming for stakes–i.e., it involves betting.
Not all gaming is gambling.

Sounds perfectly cromulent to me.

Yes, and gaming is not dining out, or visiting a spa or salon or an entertainment venue. Gaming encompasses both games of all kinds and gambling. Gambling is more restrictive in meaning (but may not neccessarily involve money-Terry was wrong about that). Does gambling have a negative connotation? It depends on the context, as far as I’m concerned. To some, it does regadless of context. But gaming is NOT what people do when they visit Vegas, as Mr Luntz seems to believe-unless they are playing games of some sort and/or gambling.

How come his “precision” leads to confusion?

His answer made no sense at all to me on this, which leads to my next question: was the anti-hero protagonist of Thank You for Smoking based on Frank Luntz? Because the interview was funnier and more outlandish than that movie’s satirical dialogue.


I’d be very surprised if Lutz invented that. Do you have a cite? Scientist tend to use “climate change” or, more accurately “anthropogenic climate change” where most lay people use “global warming”. ACC is a bit of a tongue twister, but it’s more accurate.

I only heard the first 15 minutes or so of the interview, so I missed this exchange, but he began the interview by saying that he didn’t invent any of the terms that he popularized. Instead, he used focus groups to figure out what terms led people to adopt (or at least appear to adopt) Republican positions, and then got his employers to use those terms.


I haven’t looked the term up, but anthropogenic sounds like it means generated by man. While there is no longer significant controversy as to whether there is ongoing global climate change, the only evidence I’ve seen attributing it to man is correlative in nature. Cum hoc and all that.

There are some awesome threads in Great Debates that cover this point; look for jshore’s posts.


That joke is needed over here.

Jshore is certainly an excellent poster. With respect to the main topic of this thread, though, I hope that things have crystalized somewhat. Clearly, both sides in the D-R struggle use wordsmiths to spin their messages. It’s just that, lately, the Ds have got hold of a good one. And there really isn’t anything wrong with what they and the Rs are doing. It’s the Madison Avenue mentality that is America. They have to get the votes to win, and they have to resonate with voters to get the votes.