Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-speak are Strangling Public Language

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Gotham Books, 2005 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 173 pages
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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-upin 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.


“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

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User Review  - mbmackay - LibraryThing

Sub-titled - the decay of public language. Great content but no structure. You could start at any point, read to the end, go back to the start and do it all over again. Read Feb 2005 Read full review

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About the author (2005)

Don Watson is one of AustraliaÂ's best-known writers and public intellectuals. For more than twenty-five years he has written books, essays, and reviews for the stage and television. For part of his life he was a political satirist and for another part a political speechwriter, including four years with Paul Keating, the former Labor Prime Minister. His 2001 Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM was a #1 national bestseller and a multiple award winner. He lectures widely on writing and language.

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