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The Doublespeak Award
The phrase “China Virus” and those who use it.
We understand doublespeak to be a purposeful choice of words that represents “language designed not to lead but mislead” and that seeks to “distort reality” (NCTEs Public Language Awards history document, p.25). In 2020, the world has been dealing with a global pandemic and attempting to curb the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). We nominate for this award any elected official and news media personnel who used, defended, and/or advocated for the use of phrases such as Chinese Virus, China Virus, the Chinese Flu, Kung Flu, and Wuhan Flu in place of the virus’ official name. These phrases have been purposefully repeated as a means to distract and mislead the public. The use of these phrases is designed to deflect attention away from the American government’s initial decision to downplay the seriousness of the virus’ spread and reassign blame to China. In scapegoating China, the American government alleviates itself of responsibility. Worse, this language is racist and hateful and has fueled anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments across the US. As Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy and Dana Lindaman wrote on the blogging site, The Conversation:
Personification is metaphorical: its purpose is to help understand something unfamiliar and abstract (i.e. the virus) by using terms that are familiar and embodied (i.e. a location, a nationality or a person). But as cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have long shown, metaphors are not just poetic tools, they are used constantly and shape our world view. The adjective “Chinese” is particularly problematic as it associates the infection with an ethnicity. Talking about group identities withan explicitly medical language is a recognized process of Othering (here and here), historically used in anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, including toward Chinese immigrants in North America. This type of language stokes anxiety, resentment, fear and disgust toward people associated with that group.
While elected officials and news media personnel who choose to use, defend, and/or advocate for the use of this language may argue that they are seeking clarity and accuracy in public discourse by stating that the virus comes from China, this, too, is a distraction, a distortion, and a political tact intended to stoke existing xenophobic fears. This intentional use of language is divisive and xenophobic. It is not merely a statement about the virus’ origin.
The NCTE Doublespeak Award, established in 1974 and given by the NCTE Public Language Award Committee, is an ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.
Nominations for the Award
The NCTE Public Language Award Committee is now seeking nominations for this year’s Doublespeak Award, which is given to a glaring example of deceptive language by a public spokesperson. The words must originate from an American. The committee needs a one-page description of the context in which the statement occurred and a copy of the print media source in which the quote appeared (with date). In the case of broadcast media, list the program, time, place, and date.
The nominations deadline is September 1, 2021.
Eligible nominations are those appearing or published between July 1, 2020, and August 30, 2021.
Nominations are also sought for the Orwell Award, which honors an author, editor, or producer of a print or non-print work that contributes to honesty and clarity in public language.
Send nominations to the NCTE Public Language Award Committee via email to email@example.com.
Click here to see a list of recipients.