Cover image for Death sentences : how clichés, weasel words, and management-speak are strangling public language
Death sentences : how clichés, weasel words, and management-speak are strangling public language
Watson, Don, 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Gotham Books, 2005.
Physical Description:
xxxii, 173 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"First published in Australia [as Death sentence] in 2003 by Knopf. Published as Gobbledygook in the UK by Atlantic Books"--T.p. verso.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1460 .W325 2005 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A brilliant and scathing polemic about the sorry state of the English Language and what we can—and must—do about it.When was the last time you heard a politician use words that rang with truth and meaning? Do your eyes glaze over when you read a letter from your bank or insurance company addressing you as a valued customer? Does your mind shut down when your employer starts talking about making a commitment going forwardor enhancing your key competencies? Are you enervated by in terms of, irritated by impactful, infuriated by downsizing, rightsizing, decruiting, and dejobbing? Does business process re-engineeringand attritingfail to give you ramp-up—in terms of your personal lifestyle?Today’s corporations, news media, education departments—and, perhaps most troubling, politicians—speak to us and to each other in clichéd, impenetrable, lifeless babble. Toni Morrison has called it the “disabled and disabling” language of the powerful, “evacuated language,” and “dead language.” Orwell called it “anesthetic” language. In Death Sentences, Don Watson takes up the fight against it: the pestilence of bullet points, the dearth of verbs, the buzzwords, the weasel words and cant, the Newspeak of a kind Orwell could not have imagined.Published in Australia in November 2003, Death Sentencesgained a massive following among the legions of bright, sensitive people who Could Not Take It Anymore. More than a year later, it remains a national bestseller. Praise: “An important read for anyone who holds language dear.” –Lucy Clark, Daily Telegraph “The Book of the Year… witty, erudite, and funny. Awfully funny.” –The Australian Financial Review “Nobody writes more lyrically or cares more about words and those who murder them.” –Sydney Morning Herald “Witty, excoriating, and horrifying, [DEATH SENTENCE] should be every politician’s, academic’s, businessman’s, journalist’s, and bureaucrat’s choice for book of the year— and, alas, the era.” –Robert Drewe, “Books of the Year,” The Age “…should leave us afraid, very afraid… Anyone involved in writing for public consumption should read it—and sooner rather than later.” –Frances Wilkins, Lawyers Weekly “…obliterates the vernacular vandals among journalists, academics, politicians, and business people with deadly aim.” –Murray Waldren, Australian “Brilliant… tempered by sorrow.” –Peter Price, Bulletin “…an amusing and stimulating book. Watson’s writing is the antithesis of all he deplores: it is humane and welcoming.” –James Ley, Age “Watson writes well—passionately, fiercely, with generous sprinkles of wit and vitriol… Expect an entertaining ride.” –Ruth Wajnryb, Sydney Morning Herald “…scathingly funny and deadly serious.” –Jose Borghino, Marie Claire “A book of unusual significance, a meditation on our times as much as a work on language… [it] will still be read—and enjoyed—in 50 years’ time.” –Jim Davidson, Eureka Street “Always lucid and witty… a resource of painful delight.” –John McLaren, Overla

Author Notes

Don Watson was born in 1949 in Australia. He is an author and public speaker. He took his undergraduate degree at La Trobe University and a PhD at Monash University and was for ten years an academic historian. He wrote three books on Australian history before turning his hand to TV and the stage. For several years he combined writing political satire for the actor Max Gillies with political speeches for the Premier of Victoria, John Cain. In 1992 he became Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating's speech-writer and adviser and his best-selling account of those years, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM, won both The Age Book of the Year and non-fiction Prizes, the Brisbane Courier Mail Book of the Year, the National Biography Award and the Australian Literary Studies Association's Book of the Year.

His 2001 Quarterly Essay, Rabbit Syndrome: Australia and America won the inaugural Alfred Deakin Prize in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Death Sentence was a best seller and won the Australian Booksellers Association Book of the Year. In 2015 his title, The Bush, won the Indie Book of the Year, the Book of the Year at the 2015 New South Wales Premier Literary Awards, and The Douglas Stewart Prize for Nonfiction. His 2016 Quarterly Essay, Enemy Within: American Politics in the Time of Trump is on the bestsellers list.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The publisher of Lynne Truss' phenomenally successful Eats, Shoots & Leaves BKL Je 1 & 15 04 now brings out a book on language that has been a best-seller in Australia. It is not, like Truss' book, a treatise on punctuation; however, it does share that book's passionate concern about the erosion of language, especially public discourse as practiced by businesspeople, academics, journalists, and politicians. Watson makes an eloquent, elegant, and sometimes scathing case for taking back the language from those who would strip it of all color and emotion and, therefore, of all meaning. Watson deploys devastating examples of the deadening effect of our current use of language by recasting the Gettysburg Address and Shakespearean dialogue in corporate business-speak. Furthermore, he argues that politicians use obfuscating language to foster a climate of deceit: Spin abounds. Whatever is most hackneyed triumphs. . . . Language goes out the window, and with it many opportunities for humor, spontaneity, originality, and surprise. With admirable clarity and logic, Watson makes the decay of language an issue of prime importance for everyone, not just wordsmiths. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2005 Booklist