How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality

James Garside Poole at

Steven Poole is a cunning linguist.

His book 'Unspeak' is all about how politicians abuse language to serve their own ends but he's not above doing the same.

He disses George Orwell, just to make himself look better, then admits with fake modesty that he’s no expert and just a close reader.

He quotes Noam Chomsky, disingenuously and out of context, just to make Chomsky look like a fool.

He then sets up straw-man arguments so that he can, oh so cleverly, knock them down.

He sets himself the incredibly hard task of taking apart the words of such noted thinkers, intellectuals and luminaries as George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.

Our governments are lying to us and use language to hide it. Who knew? Who knew.

Some earlier chapters are excellent and persuasive.

But often, despite agreeing with the premise of the book, I found myself irritated by Poole’s grating tone of smugness.

He goes off-the-rails at the end, focusing in later chapters almost exclusively on the war on terror.

Even though this is were we should care most, and his arguments should be strongest, he goes to town with smugness and pushes his own arguments to silly, contorted, linguistic extremes.

I agree wholeheartedly with the original premise of the book. But he’s guilty of using the very tricks and devices he decries “them” for using.

A book that seeks to expose Unspeak ends up full of it.

It’s at the service or humour and political analysis rather than mass murder, of course, but still bullshit and still annoying.

Literary journalism is an oxymoron.

Steven Poole is well-and-truly full of it — and full of himself.

He reviewed reviews of his book on the Unspeak website and his tone is the same there.

Admittedly, I laughed that he quoted Alistair Campbell’s dismissive review of his book as “Crap from start to finish” on the front cover of his book.

I’ve deliberately just blurted out my thoughts rather than write up a proper review — the last thing I want is this guy reading what I’ve said about his book and sending me footnotes.

I’m glad that I read it but I was also glad when I’d finished.

Please let me never be sat next to this man at a dinner party.

Ok, I admit, I’m just annoyed that he slagged off Orwell and Chomsky.

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NCTJ-qualified British independent journalist, author and travel writer.


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