I googled "doublespeak", and I got this:

A false Etemology? The word "doublespeak" wasn't "coined in the early 1950's" (I'm on shaky ground here but I doubt if anyone can show me a cite much before 1990)

I guess this could be checked in LexusNexus or similar. Mememe 14:28, 26 Sep 2005 (EDT) Interestingly, this apparently goes back to 1974:

I also looked in the dictionary, but it gave the date of:

Origin: 1950–55; double + speak, by analogy with doublethink

I looked further and came up with this:

Because of my erroneous memory, I thought that 'doublespeak' actually appeared and hence was defined in 1984. But from the Wikipedia entry, I learn that it "was coined in the early 1950s", and is "often incorrectly attributed to George Orwell" (as was done by me).

Which stated that George Orwell did not come up with this phrase. But then the following really confused me:

•"Doublespeak is not a term invented by George Orwell, but we surely nod to him for its origin, since he did invent 'doublethink' and 'newspeak' for his political novel 1984" (Paul Wasserman and Don Hausrath, Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak. Capital Books, 2006)

So what exactly is the origin of the term "doublespeak"?

  • 4
    You know that 1984 was published in 1949, right? And it was about the future?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 3, 2011 at 1:49

3 Answers 3


The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't have doublespeak as a separate entry; I can only make an educated guess. The word double-talk already existed in 1938, according to the OED, and was originally American. But apparently it meant simply "deliberate gibberish" then, i.e. not merely ambiguous language, but nonsense talk that listeners were supposed to know meant nothing, uttered to comical or artistic effect.

1938 New York Panorama (Amer. Guide Ser.) vi. 156 Of late a humorously conceived system of language corruption called double talk ... has made itself felt. Ibid. 157 Double talk is created by mixing plausible-sounding gibberish into ordinary conversation, the speaker keeping a straight face or dead pan and enunciating casually or off the cuff.

1941 Time 16 June 61/1 Thirteen recorded versions of this pandemic double-talk ballad are available.

1945 H. I. Phillips Private Purkey's Private Peace xxii. 129 We got the right slant on bullies, greaseballs, double talkers, supermen, and dopes.

1948 Auden Age of Anxiety vi. 125 And all species of space respond in our own Contradictory dialect, the double talk Of ambiguous bodies.

After Orwell's famous novel 1984, published in 1948/1949, double-talk apparently acquired the (additional?) meaning "deceiving language", i.e. language that is deliberately ambiguous, or language that appears to mean one thing but in fact means another.

1950 Amer. Speech XXV. 190 Back in Tsarist times Lenin and his associates inaugurated this double-talk and double-writing—especially the latter—in order to deceive the Tsarist censors and police.

1952 C. Day Lewis tr. Virgil's Aeneid ix. 203 You'll find no Atridae here, no double-talking Ulysses.

This is probably based on Orwell's newspeak and doublethink. His novel was (partly) a critique of the practice and propaganda of the totalitarian regimes of his time, Fascist Germany and Stalinist Russia.

Newspeak is new language invented by politicians as propaganda, in order to influence people's thinking by changing their language (one of the principal mechanisms studied by Postmodernist philosophers and sociologists). The word is invented by politicians in the novel and is an instance of itself. By drastically reducing vocabulary, and making new, simpler words from the remainder, they hoped to control the people more effectively. Many modern euphemisms could be called, and are often called, newspeak, like "differently abled" and "Secretary of Defence".

1949 ‘G. Orwell’ Nineteen Eighty-Four i. 51 Syme was a philologist, a specialist in Newspeak. Indeed, he was one of the enormous team of experts now engaged in compiling the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. Ibid. ii. 133 Do you know the Newspeak word goodthinkful? Ibid. App. 299 Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing.

Doublethink is somewhat related to what modern psychology calls cognitive dissonance: first accepting one fact as true, then another, contradictory fact—without critical self-assessment, which would ordinarily result in elimination of one fact or the other. Orwell's politicians try to effect doublethink by means of using and propagating ambiguous language.

1949 ‘G. Orwell’ Nineteen Eighty-Four i. iii. 37 His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy.

Considering the change in meaning of double-talk soon after the publication of Orwell's novel, and the emergence of doublespeak to mean the same a few years later, your sources (reasonably) assume that the word was deliberately coined as a (semi-)portmanteau of Orwell's newspeak and doublethink. The OED has 1957 as its earliest quotation:

1957 ‘M. Buttle’ Sweeniad ii. 55 In the literary weeklies, the languages of criticism and theology have become one and book reviews all sound like sermons written in the most holy ‘*Double-Speak’.

1961 W. Kaufmann in G. E. Myers Self, Relig. & Metaphysics 99 The theologians have a way of redefining terms in rather odd ways, and frequently engage in something best called double-speak: their utterances are designed to communicate contradictory views to different listeners and readers.

The asterisk and quotation marks in the first quote might indicate that the word was then quite new and explained in a footnote.

  • 7
    This essay is doubleplusgood, Cerberus.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 3, 2011 at 2:05
  • 1
    Obligatory Google Ngram for doublespeak vs. doubletalk shows 'doubletalk' very popular in the forties, before 1984 was published, but then taken over by 'doublespeak' by the 1980's. Also my spellchecker recognizes 'doublespeak' but not 'doubletalk'.
    – Mitch
    Jun 3, 2011 at 3:05
  • @Mitch: Ah, yes. I've added double speak, which had an even higher peak, also around 1945-1960; it them began to drop, but is now regaining some momentum. ngrams.googlelabs.com/… Jun 3, 2011 at 3:52
  • Interesting -- so in fact the "Orwellian" meaning may have just been an extension of an already existing meaning. Nonetheless, it does seem that people begain to associate the word with Orwell soon after the publication of 1984. Jun 3, 2011 at 5:53
  • "Doublespeak" now has its own entry in the OED: "= double-talk n. 2; cf. -speak suffix and doublethink n.". 1957 is still their earliest (I'll send them the 1950 from Hansard) but now the asterisk is gone.
    – Hugo
    Apr 29, 2013 at 15:36

Searching Google Books for "doublespeak" in publications in the 1950s, there are apparently various instances from publications in the mid 1950s, apparently already with an association with Orwell.

And see this apparent instance from a 1950 House of Commons debate (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1950/nov/02/debate-on-the-address#S5CV0480P0_19501102_HOC_80):

Perhaps it is yet another example of what the late George Orwell in his book, which hon. Members may or may not have read, entitled "Nineteen Eighty-four" called "double speak."

So even if Orwell didn't literally use the term, it does seem that it was originally coined as a "pseudo-Orwellianism".

  • Very interesting link to the HoC debate!
    – MT_Head
    Jun 3, 2011 at 1:58

The first use I can find is in a book called Varieties of present-day English (Richard W. Bailey, Jay L. Robinson - Macmillan, 1973):

...black folks talk like white folk on all occasions which the Northern Powers thought it worth their while to regulate. This was the origin of bidialectalism, biloquialism, or - in "good plain Anglo-Saxon" - doublespeak.

This first usage clearly intends to convey a conscious switching of dialects depending on audience; the (now) more usual meaning - a mash-up of Orwell's "doublethink" and "Newspeak", intending to convey using "language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered", seems to have first appeared the next year (1974) when the (U.S.) National Council of Teachers of English formed a Committee on Public Doublespeak.

A.M. Tibbetts, writing in the NCTE's magazine "College English" in 1978, said

The Committee, of course, owes a great debt to George Orwell. Its operative term, doublespeak, is derived from Nineteen Eighty-Four. An early resolution (passed in 1971 at the annual convention of the NCTE), which led to the creation of the Committee, quoted Orwell's remark that "language is often used as an instrument of social control." The Committee's publications resonate with Orwell's name, and allusions to him abound in statements on doublespeak.

So, although Orwell himself never used the term, I think it's fairly clear that (in this second meaning at least) the etymology is his.

  • No, it's certainly much older than this! (See my answer for an apparent example from 1950.) Jun 3, 2011 at 1:55
  • @Neil - I see what my problem was: Googling the compound word as opposed to the phrase... In
    – MT_Head
    Jun 3, 2011 at 2:00

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