lame denials

Gareth Branwyn garethb2 at STREETTECH.COM
Fri Sep 14 21:35:04 UTC 2001

I wrote a piece on doublespeak years ago that's still available online:

Some of the writing makes me wince (I'd like to think I've improved since
then), but I think most of it holds up well enough to point out here.

[BTW: This piece was written for STIM, a webzine for Prodigy I wrote for in
the mid '90s.]

-----Original Message-----
From: emckean at ENTERACT.COM <emckean at ENTERACT.COM>
Date: Friday, September 14, 2001 5:31 PM
Subject: Re: lame denials

>I would be very very interested in publishing an article on this topic in
>VERBATIM, if anyone needs that incentive to begin research. ..
>Erin McKean
>editor at
>On Fri, 14 Sep 2001, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>> has anyone studied denials of intent in speech?  i have in mind,
>> specifically, implausible disavowals of import, as in the following
>> three examples (of rather different types):
>> 1.  speaker refers to rep. barney frank of massachusetts as "barney
>> fag", with evident pleasure in the childishly insulting deformation of
>> the name, but later denies intent to insult by claiming it was a slip
>> of the tongue.
>> 2.  speaker refers to a female colleague of japanese descent as a
>> "slant-eyed cunt", but later denies intent to insult by maintaining
>> that he sometimes just talks nonsense.
>> 3.  speaker asserts that members of the aclu, abortionists, pagans,
>> feminists, gays, and lesbians must bear some responsibility for the
>> atrocities in new york and washington, because their attempts to
>> "secularize America" "make God mad", but a spokesperson denies hateful
>> intent by saying these remarks were "taken out of context".
>> i do *not* have in mind ordinary speech errors, or misspeakings that
>> arise from cluelessness, or even speech actually designed to
>> accommodate plausible denial (like a MUCK FICHIGAN bumper sticker),
>> but things whose intent and import can be discerned by any reasonable
>> hearer, yet are disavowed after the fact.
>> and my question was whether such lame denials have been studied - or,
>> at least, collected and classified - by anyone.
>> arnold (zwicky at

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