Double-Speak

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search

Nice little house you got here... be a Shame If Something Happened to it.

Use of polite euphemism, typically by Weird Trade Unions, government officials, mafia insurance salesman, or spies, especially for their targets, actions or gathering places like the Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club.

Not an Unusual Euphemism. Subtrope of Double Meaning. Compare Never Say "Die", Deadly Euphemism, or Super Fun Happy Thing of Doom. For the case when a character must speak to two different people at once to convey different information, see Multitasked Conversation.

Examples of Double-Speak include:


  • Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the Ur-Examples. While not actually a Trope Namer—the phrase "Doublespeak" does not appear in the novel, though "doublethink" does (albeit with no relation)--it certainly brought the idea of using euphemisms to a new height.
  • For both the Assassin's Guild of the Discworld series and the Torturer's Guild of The Book Of The New Sun, victims are referred to as "clients". The Assassin's Guild also refers to contracts as "commissions" (possibly due to their view of their work being artistic in nature). And they prefer to say "inhume" rather than kill. "...It's like exhume... only it's before they bury you."
    • The Seamstresses' Guild in the same Discworld, which only has one actual seamstress. Of course, that's not a euphemism for the victims, but rather, for the members. (That is, the people who perform the service.)
      • "Trousers repaired while you wait," indeed.
      • Said seamstress was hired because some people just don't get euphemisms.
    • Mentioned several times is the original guild of firefighters, disbanded because of their tendencies to stand around people's houses saying things like "looks like a very inflammable house there, it'd be shame if something happened to it."
      • Which is almost Real Life, as is often the case with Pratchett: Marcus Licinius Crassus, who created the first Roman fire brigade, had his men start fires so that business was never slow.
  • In The Screwtape Letters, the humans that the demons are attempting to damn are referred to as "patients".
  • The Maverick Hunters from the Mega Man X games refer to their work as "retiring" the mavericks.
    • Which is extraordinarily likely to be a translator's Shout-Out to the identical euphemism in Blade Runner.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: With the Guides' talk of "a most disfortunate accident" and being "taken right away", Young Annie has to figure out by herself that the boy who "lost his way" is actually dead. One bit of dialogue suggests this deception was unintentional:

Moddey-Dhoo: One more thing, pup. The boy don't know he has passed on.
Antimony: Passed on what?

  • Parodied in a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, in which a henchman irritably asks his Diabolical Mastermind boss to speak more clearly, because his 'needlessly ambiguous' instructions, phrased as euphemisms such as 'Take care of Detective Harrison' and 'Let's hope Dr. Professor Rixton meets with an unfortunate accident' only lead to confusion when his henchmen take him too literally.

Boss: oh, and... perhaps you'd like to join me later for... a spot of light refreshment?
Henchman: (irritably) Do you mean anal sex?
Boss: Well, yes...
Henchman: Alright then.

  • Parodied in The Simpsons with future president Lisa's "temporary refund adjustment," which Bart inadvertently reveals on national TV to be a tax hike; nobody could figure it out otherwise.
    • Also parodied in a recent Treehouse of Horror episode, where, in a Strangers on a Train parody, Bart and Lisa agree to "prank" each others teachers, and "ding-dong-ditch" them. Of course, by prank, Bart means kill, and by ding-dong-ditch, he means throw the ding-dong in a ditch.
  • In the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, the assassination firm known as "the Plumbers" uses such phrases as "going to the WC" and "Flushing" to refer to Good Old Murderin'.
  • Babylon 5: all the expeditions that were sent by earth to vorlon space disappeared. The vorlon said that they had met with accidents and suggested they send no more expeditions into their territory
  • The source of the quote at the top of the page: Frank Nitti in The Untouchables uses the above line to threaten Eliot Ness.
  • Jafar in Aladdin wants the guards to "extend him (Aladdin) an invitation to the palace." Obviously, he means throw him in the dungeon so that Jafar can use him to get the lamp.
  • In Dr. Falicier's Villain Song in The Princess and the Frog, the good doctor tells Prince Naveen that "hitchin' ties you down. You wanna be free, hop from place to place, but freedom takes green." When he agrees to the doctor's deal, Naveen gets the green he needs to hop around, by being turned into a frog.
  • Brazil' has its dystopian government having an "information retrieval" division. We would call information retrieval Cold-Blooded Torture and the employees of the department Torture Technicians.
  • The Morag Tong operatives from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind do not commit murders: they perform Honorable Executions. However, given that they are the high-class, honorable assassins in contrast to the gangly, thuggish Cammona Tong and the treacherous Dark Brotherhood, they do manage to keep a higher moral ground.
  • Truth in Television: Corporate speak and military PR jargon are notoriously filled with them. Companies are notoriously terrified of telling people they're fired, leading to a list of euphemisms. Because people quickly catch on to what being "terminated", "laid-off", "downsizing" and all the others actually mean, they have to keep changing them.
    • Parodied in a Dilbert strip where the Pointy-Haired Boss gives some employees the option to be re-purposed, re-organized, or re-assigned. The final panel has Catbert asking him how many people volunteered to be fired without knowing it.
      • In another strip, the PHB tells a worker his job was re-considered, that he was put in the mobility pool, etc. The worker irritates the PHB not getting it.
      • In one of the books, Adams extrapolated from the then-current "rightsized" to the future "happysized", "splendidsized", and "orgasmsized".
      • It's entered the current jargon so well that people draw a distinction between being "fired" and being "laid-off." "Fired" means losing your job because of an infraction, while "laid-off" means losing your job for budget reasons. Immediate results are the same, but it's easier to get a new job after being laid-off than after being fired.
    • A particularly notorious example is the Finnish expression "yt-neuvottelut", short for yhteistoimintaneuvottelut, which means "cooperation negotiations". It sounds innocent and positive, but really it means negotiations about laying people off.
  • Double-Speak is used almost every time by people who were responsible for killing or imprisoning a journalist or human rights activist.
  • More Truth in Television from Nazi Germany: Sonderbehandlung, or "special treatment", referring to Jews. Hint: it wasn't anything nice.
  • In Animorphs, at the end of the series, the Andalites reveal that every time the kids begged for help, they thought that they were lying to get special attention. Jake gives a little doublespeak-laden speech to the Andalite HQ, telling them to shove it up their asses in the most polite way possible, with Marco giving the translations to what is actually being said in first-person narrative.
  • In the Greek play Agamemnon many of Clytemnestra's speeches are filled with double meanings.
  • In The Road to Cydonia the secret agency places martial artists in internment camps which they call "Sanctuary Communities".