Singlespeak vs. Doublespeak


In my previous piece, I discussed my probably Aspie-related difficulties in distinguishing between things like fact and opinion, and truth and rhetoric. Then after a few conversations with people, I realized that these terms such as “fact” and “opinion” are perhaps not the most accurate ones to categorise the types of speech, statements and knowledge I am attempting to categorise- into those types which I find difficult and those which I find easy or natural. “Truth,” “fact” and “science” vaguely fall into one category, while “rhetoric,” “opinion” and “art” fall into another, but they are not the only things that fit into the categories. I needed to figure out what other things fit into the categories, and then to define the categories and give them names.

Other things that fit into the “opinion” category, I realised, are humor, jokes, sarcasm, irony, satire, indirect speech, persuasive speech, manipulative speech, hidden agendas, hidden meanings, propaganda, most political speech, stereotypes, symbolism, metaphor, romantic speech, and basically everything else that Sheldon Cooper hates.

The “fact” category is essentially the opposite of everything in the opinion category. It is everything factual, logical, rational, scientific, direct, literal, truthful and straightforward. It is everything that Aspies are stereotyped to be. It is the essence of Spock.

So, now how do I define these categories? One way might be to call them “literal speech” and “nuanced speech.” After all, autistics are often described as being very literal, while having trouble with any type of nuance. These are probably the closest one can get in defining these categories given the limits of the English language. However, being a George Orwell fan, as well as someone who loves coming up with his own catchy terminology, I have decided to name the categories singlespeak and doublespeak.*

I would say these are quite accurate titles, linguistically speaking. Singlespeak is speech that has a single meaning, a literal, straightforward meaning. There is no hidden meaning behind it other than what is explicitly stated. Examples of singlespeak are:

“The world is round.”


“I went to the bank today.”

“I don’t know.”

“You and Leonard had a disappointing sexual encounter which Leonard characterized as ‘just fine,’ so what you’re seeing here is a continuation of the mocking that followed.” (a Sheldon quote from Big Bang Theory season 3, episode 2 mentioned in a previous post)

Doublespeak has double, or more than double meanings, or perhaps an intended meaning different from a literal interpretation of the statement, or perhaps a vague meaning or even an incomprehensible meaning that is a puzzle of solve, or has meaning that might be different for each person, or meaning that some people will accept but others will reject. Examples of doublespeak are:

“Tea is better than coffee.”

“Jewish people are stingy.”

“Excuse me Miss, may I buy you a drink?”

“Life is a rollercoaster.”

“A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks ‘Why the long face?'”

“The procrastinator’s meeting has been postponed.”

“God created the world in seven days.”

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (obviously)

“Let’s make America great again!”

You get the idea. I tried to include as diverse a range of doublespeak examples as possible, ranging from humor, irony and metaphor to stereotypes, persuasions and propaganda. Doublespeak, I theorise, is what autistics have the most trouble with. An autistic paradise, perhaps, would be one in which all that exists is singlespeak. A world full of Sheldons.

Incidentally, such a world does exist, even if only in cinematic form:

This clip is from a film called The Invention of Lying, but in my opinion it could just as easily be titled The First Neurotypical or The Invention of Doublespeak. The premise is that the characters are living in an alternate universe where there is no such thing as lying. Everybody tells the blunt, honest truth all the time, with no regard for the feelings of the people they are talking to.

On the plus side, it is an honest society where cheating, manipulation and exploitation are impossible, everybody is trustworthy, and advertising does not even exist because it relies on dishonesty! On the minus side, people end up being insulted all the time and there is no such thing as movies either- acting is a form of lying. I assume this applies to all forms of drama and fiction as well. Historical documentaries are the only form of video entertainment, because these are truthful.

This hypothetical world, to me, very much resembles what I imagine a world full of Aspies would look like- if everybody was a Sheldon. There is virtually no nuanced speech, and everything is direct, literal and to the point. It is truly a world of singlespeak. About a quarter-way into the movie, Ricky Gervais’ character becomes the first person in this world to “discover” lying. He takes huge advantage of his new ability, messing with people’s heads, cheating the banks into giving him enormous sums of money, getting women into bed with him and inventing the “Man in the Sky,” essentially creating  religion- something that cannot exist in an honest world either! As an Aspie, I see Gervais’ transformation as more than the discovery of lying. It is the discovery of neurotypical nuance, of doublespeak.

However, I must remind myself of my dedication towards, in the tradition of Socrates, operating under the assumption that I know nothing. And if I know nothing, then to me, that would mean that there is no such thing as fact. And if there is no such thing as fact, then I suppose there can be no such thing as singlespeak either. Singlespeak relies on the assumption that things do exist that are 100% truthful and factual, which I am not sure I believe. Perhaps all speech is essentially doublespeak in one way or another- everything is subject to multiple interpretations. Perhaps Orwell was not describing a dystopian hell, but the reality of every society that every existed- because a doublespeak society is the only type of society that possibly can exist. After all, is 1984 really that different from the world we live in today?

* George Orwell is dead, so I’m pretty sure he can’t sue me for copyright infringement.

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